In MABS-14

On August 7, 1957 I was forced out of my exciting flying billet in VMA-211 and sent to MABS-14.  Yes, and still at NAAS Edenton, NC.  Overnight I went from squadron pilot to staff puke at the Base Operations.  The Commanding Officer welcomed me aboard and handed me five SOJ supervisory positions.  Station Safety Officer, Flight Clearance Officer, Photo Lab, Air Freight and Passenger Terminal.  Major Allen T. Wood was my immediate supervisor as the Base Operations Officer.  Finding no instructions on what my duties were in the billets I was assigned, I made the mistake of asking Major Wood for directives that spelled out my duties.  I was promptly told to write SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] for each of my jobs.  That assignment kept me busy for a couple of weeks.  My Gunny in Flight Clearance suggested I get SOPs from other Marine Air Base squadrons that had the same kind of Air Station assignments.  Smart that Gunny!  I flew the AD-5 down to MCAS Cherry Point, NC and visited every department that was similar to mine.  They all gave me copies of their SOPs and all I had to do was take those as a rough draft and tailor the instructions to match the size and scope of the operations at NAAS Edenton.  Thanks Gunny, wherever you are!  Major Wood knew what he was doing too.  In writing my duties I also learned them well.


                                             NAAS Edenton, NC Skyline taken by Bill Holmes VMA-225

The major labor at Station Operations was at Flight Clearance.  The operations duty officers handled all the paperwork of flight plans filing and clearance authority.  I was there to train and supervise the three young squadron pilots who alternated the ODO duties in 8 hour shifts for thirty days of TAD.  Very little traffic stopped at Edenton.  It was a small dry town on Albemarle Sound and was an attraction for no one except the locals.  The nearest Naval Air Station was 25 miles away at Elizabeth City which was a shit-bag base.  The giant blimps sometimes requested touch and go landings at our runways.  We only permitted them near our Base when none of our Air Group planes were operating.  With a fifteen knot wind a blimp could spend the lunch hour on one approach.  The Photo Lab was my favorite job.  Photography was always a hobby of mine.  I had started a camera club when a junior in high school and was president of the high school camera club until graduation.  I used the aerial cameras frequently while flying as mentioned in High Flight at NAAS Edenton.


          NAS Elizabeth City, NC as taken by Bill Holmes in 1957

One day, during my first month in the job, a Navy S2F was shooting touch and go landings on our runways.  Somehow he managed to crash in the thickest grove of pines within the perimeter of the Base.  I grabbed the duty jeep and led the Crash Crew vehicles through the emergency roads to crash location.  We found the S2F vertical, the crushed nose and bent propellers straight down about 50 feet from the taxiway.  The cockpit and cabin were ripped apart leaving the impression that the foam lining was body parts dangling out of the cockpit.  That caused me to pause but the crash crews rushed straight to the cockpit.  It was then I noticed the two pilots standing nearly a hundred yards away from the aircraft smoking cigarettes.  The pilots had only a couple of scratches.  That crash caused me to realize the importance of training the ODO's in knowing and following the rescue routes to crashes on the airfield.

Flying was good although less exciting than in an Operational Squadron.  Most flying time logged was in the AD-5 Skyraider on the daily milk and mail runs to MCAS Cherry Point.  No commissary was available at Edenton.  The trips to Cherry Point brought the bare necessities of milk and bread up to a small Post Exchange store where it was sold at cost to the troops and their dependents.  The station had two C-47s [DC-3], two SNB Beechcraft [C-45], two T-33 jets and several four seat AD-5 Skyraiders for pilot proficiency.  VMA-211 and VMA-225 were the two operational AD-4 Skyraider squadrons assigned to MAG-14.  I averaged about 15 hours a month flight time while at MABS-14.

             Snow covered Able Dogs on the Flight Line taken by Bill Holmes.

Two NAP Mustang pilots kept the ODOs busy griping, reading regulations and writing up violations for the Station Commander to toss in the circular file.  One of the recalcitrant pilots was a wily warrant officer named Sparling while his co-pilot was a prankish Master Sergeant with the humor and cleverness of Sergeant Bilko.  They treated the station C-47 like it was their own personal DC-3.  They flagrantly chomped cigars while walking around the aircraft, within 50 feet of refueling, while taxiing and took off without filing flight plans-among dozens of other violations of regulations.  They ignored complaints and generally did as they damned pleased.  Their funniest caper was about once a week and usually on Friday when they would taxi up to the passenger terminal with a row of Pabst and Schlitz bottles lined up on top of the cockpit instrument panel for the boarding passengers and duty officers to see and over react.  The young Marines in Base Ops got a big charge out of the antics of the two Mustangs.    

Fitness reports were June and December.  When the MABS Commanding Officer finished writing mine, he called me into his office to discuss the performance marks he had given me in all aspects of my duties along with many other officer qualities.  He handed me my report which I noticed were almost straight down the average column.  I was taken aback at the low marks and told him that he was a couple of rows below my usual ratings.  The CO explained to me that he was once a lieutenant and he had observed and served with countless lieutenants in his career to the rank of light Colonel and that I should rest assured, he said, "...that there are no outstanding lieutenants."  After leaving the office I was aware that a reserve career would be out of the question and I better look for a job before my obligated service expired at the end of 1958.

Major Wood stopped by my desk one day with a stack of Marine Corps manuals and files.  "Please handle all the calls that are for me.  I am tied up in a Formal Board of Survey to Inquire into the loss of eleven two thousand pound hydraulic bomb trailers.  Pass the word, no phone calls and do not disturb the members of this Board until we have completed all action on this case."  Gunny put a "Do Not Disturb" sign outside the conference room door.  A new ODO had checked in for duty and I was spending the day briefing him and qualifying him for Flight Clearance duties.  About mid-afternoon, I drove the new ODO through the maze of dirt rescue roads through the high pines to all positions close and far from the runways.  As I drove the jeep past over growth adjacent to the taxiway and aircraft parking ramp, we passed an area where the weeds and grass were chest deep.  Frost had killed the weeds and I could discern a train of connected new $10,000 bomb trailers.  I stopped and walked through the brush and weeds while counting ten bomb trailers. 

We rushed back to Base Operations and I hurried to the conference room where the Board of Survey was probably getting ready to end the careers of some Officers.  Ignoring the "Do Not Disturb" sign, I knocked on the door.  Someone inside shouted, "Go Away!  And, next time, read the sign!"

I pounded on the door with the heel of my fist, "Open up!  This is important!" The door was opened about six inches and the frowning face of Major Wood looked out at me.  Before he could say anything, I blurted out.  "I found the bomb trailers!"

The room emptied in less than a minute.  The convening authority joined the Board members in the boondocks as they checked the serial numbers on the trailers.  A couple of members came by to thank me for stumbling onto the missing expensive inventory items.  It didn't seem like a remarkably important day to me but the Commanding Officer of MABS-14 must have thought so.  Realizing I would soon become a PFC [poor frigging civilian] without a job, I submitted paperwork requesting selection for a Reserve Extension of active duty.  The CMC Board for selection of eligible Reserve Officers for a Regular Marine Corps commission was also meeting later in the year after the selection board for extension of active duty.  So I applied for both opportunities to be selected for continued duty in the Marine Corps.  Special fitness reports had to accompany both applications.  In viewing the fitness reports submitted by the MABS CO, I noticed my evaluations had jumped several rows left of the last report to outstanding on the special reports.  Surely my commanding officer had changed his mind.  He must have decided that there was one outstanding lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  Happily, that time it was me!

Incidentally, I was selected for one of the 50 Reserve extensions.  A couple of months later the Marine Augmentation Board accepted me for a regular commission.  I felt bad about wasting one of the 50 reservists slots when I knew hundreds had been vying for extensions. 


Back to Back We face the Past

Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.