"So that meant there was eight of us and this was a three man dinghy. So we all got out there on the wing with the good float on it, to keep that other wing from getting down in the water."
We were on the West Coast not too long after [the Japanese attack on] Pearl Harbor. So this is what they were afraid of, that the Japs were coming. So that’s what we were doing, was making patrols. We would go out sometimes a box patrol, which was out, across and back, sometimes as straight out as far as we could go to see if the Jap navy coming. Sounds kind of goofy but that’s right; that’s what we were there to do.
We were out on this trip this day, we went out at 4:45 in the morning and unbeknownst to us, we weren’t told that the aircraft that we were on had extra fuel tanks, so you could go further out. So we had a full load of fuel and we were out and just going across, we were doing a box that day, out and back. And lo and behold, one motor quit; we had two motors on this thing. And this was fairly common for a motor to quit. And it did.
We were just lucky there was a lot of cloud that day. There was the odd place and it just so happened there’s a place we could go right down to the water. We had to go, no choice. Wouldn’t fly on one motor with all that fuel. And no way to jettison the fuel, extra fuel. We wouldn’t have had time anyway. Had to land right away.
So down we go. And our captain, Jack Johnson, made a pretty good landing. You’ve got to think, those waves were close to 12 feet high. So down we go. Well, ditching instructions were: keep the plane headed into the wind, as long as you can, with your motors going. We tried that and it wasn’t very long until the waves knocked one of the wing floats off. That means if it got down in the water on that side with no wing float, it could very well be gonners.
Well, I thought, well, we’d better get the lifeboat out. You have to pump them up - “dinghy” they called them. Yeah, I’d get it out. There was eight of us on this aircraft. One fellow just went for the ride that day. He was supposed to be going out on leave but he had his leave cancelled. And so he thought, oh, I’ll see if I can go with these fellows. So that meant there was eight of us and this was a three man dinghy. So we all got out there on the wing with the good float on it, to keep that other wing from getting down in the water. And the wind is turning us around, you know. We were like a cork in the bathtub, you know. Three times, that wing got down in the water and we thought, uh-oh. But we managed to get it back.
Our navigator, Jean-Paul Guerin, a French-Canadian lad, and he was a good one. He spotted another plane way away in the distance, just a spot. So golly, we get out all our, they called them Verey cartridges [a flare gun], green ones and red ones and yellow ones. We started shooting these things up in the air, hoping they’d see us. And by golly, they did.