She was a ship - not a boat! There existed no other ship that could carry her. That's why 12 tug boats were necessary to guide the mighty carrier, the USS Saratoga, CVA-60, into Newport, Rhode Island on August 8, 1998, from Philadelphia Naval Yard. The sight of the mighty ship going under the Claiborne Pell bridge brought a wave of nostalgia over me and brought back many exciting memories of thrilling moments operating from one of America's finest ships. I can close my eyes and feel the screaming, electrifying, accelerating boot of the catapult launch. And then relive the harsh slam and chest crushing deceleration upon catching a wire on arrested landing. The many hours between the two moments of intense excitement during a sortie from the carrier have faded from memory. But, not the exhilarating seconds at the beginning and at the end of each launch. Many nights I relive the pure joys I experienced with Sara.
It was boring for pilots between launches or when not scheduled. We watched the PLAT televisions while lounging or playing acey-deucey in the squadron ready room. Some pilots griped about how the clearing turns were practically non-existent or shallow wing dips. I decided to liven up the TV viewing by exaggerating my cat shots and clearing turns. On my next launch from the waist cat, after saluting the catapult officer, I raised the gear handle and pushed the stick over against my left thigh. The screaming boom of the catapult sent me from inert to 200 mph in two seconds. At the end of the stroke the crusader snapped into a 45-60 degree left bank while the landing gear thumped into the wheel wells chased by the rapidly slamming gear doors. The F-8 shot out of the left side of the television screen so fast it startled everyone, including the Admiral who was letting the Marine PFC play with the little wheel while he sleepily watched the PLAT. Surprisingly, no one could remember which plane had made the erratic clearing turn and, of course, the pilots weren't volunteering information. Clearing turns really became noteworthy after that demo. A couple of days later, Animal Marshall, monster man from SMU, launched with a sidewinder for a live drone shoot. Animal followed the routine described above on his cat shot. We know this, because during the catapult stroke from the waist cat, and before the high-G clearing turn, the missile fired. Apparently the jettison switch had been left on. The sidewinder went smoking by the poor Navy jocks launching off the bow catapults. Wow! That was an exciting day! Clearing turns became less violent after that incident.
Sara loved Rum Goodies! That was why she kept a huge juice machine going all night in the wardroom. We carried large quantities of spirits aboard after each liberty run. The empty liquor bottles were accumulated until we had a 30 gallon garbage bag full then we would find a gold bar, low on the pecking order, and assign him the dangerous mission of launching the bottles off the fantail. Our "grunt" ordnance officer was given the job one night about midnight. He was called "Turk" because of his closely cropped black hair and his handle bar mustache. Turk was briefed precisely how to make his way up to the flight deck, aft to the fantail and told exactly how to launch the bag into the ocean. We hit our racks. Next morning there was hell to pay! It seems the aft elevator was down and Turk went to the edge of the elevator barrier and launched his 30 gallon bag of empty rum bottles onto the deck of the elevator 60 feet below. The Officer of the Day was supervising movement of ordnance and support equipment topside. The crashing, breaking bottles put a stop to that operation for a while. Next day, all CO's, CMFIC's, SMF's and the Chaplain were doing rug-dances. No finger prints were taken from the glass fragments and no one confessed to the dastardly deed. The bug-juice machine was still operating the next night and the rum-goodies flowed as if nothing had happened.
Sara was great--and I miss her!
Back to Back We Face the Past
Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.