"We had, for the most part, pilots and radio officers as well who were very young. The average age might have been 22. We had, fortunately, a core group of older people who were World War II veterans and we looked up to these guys. They not only taught us how to fly, they taught us how to drink!"
I wasn’t in any kind of senior position. I had just came out of navigation school; and, suddenly, here I am on an operational squadron with a very, very good reputation. You had to prove that you could do the job. So you would understudy a more senior navigator for perhaps one or two trips. Then, according to how well you developed, they would let you go on your own. I think it was the second trip around I was on my own.
We had, for the most part, pilots and radio officers as well who were very young. The average age might have been 22. We had, fortunately, a core group of older people who were World War II veterans and we looked up to these guys. They not only taught us how to fly, they taught us how to drink. [laughs] It was the whole culture of the squadron, and you were swept into that. It was just like being on a professional sports team.
The job of the navigator was, of course, to first of all plan the flight. This would perhaps take half a hour, an hour, according to the winds forecast, and the weather and so on. We flew at low altitudes because we were unpressurized. We had to fly in the eight to 14,000 foot range. We had a lot of weather. We flew in the north Pacific which is a great weather factory. We flew from Tacoma, Washington, which was our base, McChord Air Force Base. Our home base was back in [RCAF Station Lachine] Dorval [Québec]. We would cycle aircraft back and forth with fresh people, and fresh supplies and new aircraft. But operationally we staged with the American forces out of McChord Air Force Base.
We’d fly up to Anchorage, Alaska, up the coast. Then we would fly all the way up to the tip of the Aleutian Chain, to Shemya, where we would have our first rest stop and we’d stay for two days. It was a terrible place, dismal, bad morale, bad food. [laughs] But we would play cards and just sort of rest. Then the next aircraft would come in. The aircraft would not even cool off. It would just be serviced, and we would get aboard and then take it down to Tokyo. We would stay another two very educational days in Tokyo. That was a magnificent experience.
Then early in the airlift we flew around the southern loop. We would fly then to Wake Island and two more days on the beach at the lagoon at Wake Island. Not a resort, but we thought it was pretty special. Then on to Hawaii, we stayed right at Waikiki Beach. Then to San Francisco where we would stay over night and then back up to Tacoma. The whole loop would take about 10 days or more. Then you would rest perhaps for three or four days, and then away you would go again.