MEMORIES OF ARGENTIA
Thank you ship mate. What a pleasant trip
back in time. The pictures and stories really brought back the memories,
some good, some not so good. Please don't get me wrong, I didn't love
Argentia, as some of the writers seem to have, but I do cherish my time in
the Navy and I'm still in touch with the some of the best friends I have
ever had. I just want to say, hopefully with a little humor, that it wasn't
all peaches and cream.
Now, let me tell you a little about the "rock"
as viewed through the eyes of a seventeen year old sailor right out of boot
camp (please remember that I am now seventy years old and my memory has been
know to be just a little less than perfect at times, so bare with me).
I was assigned to N.S. Argentia, Newfoundland in
January of 1956. The best thing I can say about the place is that I
made some great friends there (including, among others, Anthony Potski
"Jellybean" Jeski from Milwaukee, who I am still looking for). Otherwise, I
read all the nostalgic comments and stories on your site and wonder if they
are talking about the same place. Especially the guy who said
Argentia was the best duty he had in the Navy? Where on earth
did he spend the rest of the time, Devils Island?
I arrived in the middle of the night in
early January having flown in from NAS Quonset Pt. in the Navy version of a
DC-3. Talk about culture shock. Holy Moly! It was the dead of winter in
Newfoundland and here was the kid from the desert, in dress blues,
snow swirling up his pants legs and right though his brand new, completely
inadequate pea coat and down the neck of his jumper. Surely there had been
some mistake in navigation! We had been kidnapped by the KGB and this was
Siberia! I was not happy as I waded though the blowing snow to the cold
quanset hut that served as an air terminal. I had joined the Navy to go to
Ofcourse, we quickly adapted to the snow and
cold but like most young men, we had other things on our minds, and there
was very little of that.
I did manage to have one date while I was there,
which I think was one more than most of the enlisted men had. Her name was
Madelyn and she worked in the ships store. She wore tight pink sweaters and
all the young sailors, including me, hovered around her like bees looking
for pollen. We thought she was delicious. She was know as "hairy Madelyn"
because she was, but what the hey...I was seventeen and this was
Newfoundland). I was assigned to the parachute loft at the time. My boss, a
fine man I'll never forget, Rudicil, PH1, courageously loaned me his '51
ford so I could take her out. Incrediably, the car had no
heater. We parked out behind the hanger for a little R and R but it was so
cold we didn't dare take our clothes off for fear of frost bite. Finally,
quite disappointed, we finally gave up. The next time I touched something
soft was a year later in San Diego. We had a term only my Argentia
shipmates will remember: TSB.
It wasn't all bad, sometimes the sun
would actually come out for a few minutes and on Friday we had lobster. It
was halved right down the middle, one claw, half a body and half a tail.
Being a kid from a small town in the Southern California desert, I had never
seen, much less tasted such a "delicacy". At first, I just stared at it. I
wasn't sure I really wanted to eat what appeared to be a very large insect,
but I quickly learned to love it... and we could go back for seconds.. and
thirds if you could handle it! What a treat!
"Entertainment' for enlisted men at that time, consisted of ping
pong (just what every lusty young sailor is looking for on Saturday
night) or the movies ($.10). I saw Bus Stop there with
Marilyn Monroe, at least the first two reals. Someone had pack two
second reels and no third) or the so called rec center, and a
Quonset hut were they sold beer with formaldehyde in it (later
determined to be a carcinogen) for $.10 a can. Upon leaving the
"club" one night a poor drunk sailor fell asleep in a snow drift on
his way back to the barracks, and froze to death. I always wondered
what the Navy said to his mother.
Of course you could always buy cigarettes for nine cents a pack
by the carton at the ships store or a dime out of a "candy"
machine. The start of a lifelong addiction to nicotine for me
and countless others. Not that I blame the Navy for that, it was
We had one USO show in eighteen month, as I remember;
Christmas, 1956. They weren't exactly ready for prime time but they
were female and we loved every moment of it! Most of the dancing
girls were old enough to be our mothers but they sure looked good to
us. It was the first time we had seen female flesh in very long
time. I doubt if a surgeon has ever examined a woman's body so
There were no washing machines for
enlisted men at the time, at least in our barracks. You could send it out to
be done but you might never see it again and if you did it would cost much
more than an E2 could afford. At least we learned self reliance. At first,
we washed our clothes in a trash can with a swab handle and hung it from our
bunks. Later on, an ingenious AD in our hanger "found" an ancient wooden
washing machine in Placentia with a hand crank, yet. He hooked it up with an
electric motor and except for the fact that it ate an occasionally sock, it
ran nearly twenty four hours a day and was going strong when I left.
The lawns were "mowed" by sheep...needless to
say there were many jokes about that...none of which, to the best of my
knowledge, were true.
BTW, one of the stories I read with interest on
your site said the author was in the crash crew while I was there and that
there was only one crash during that period; an Air Force SA-16 (same as a
Navy UF-1 Albatross). Tragically, he was correct. All were killed, including
the one survivor that was hit and killed by the crash crew boat).
He seems to have forgotten a Willie Victor that
crashed and burned on the runway, with no fatalities, thanks to the best
damn pilot in the Navy. As they took off, the port inboard engine
caught fire. The pilot gained what altitude he could and banked left to
get back to the runway for an emergency landing. He was at very
low altitude and on fire but brilliantly managed to ease the aircraft around
Mae West and toward the runway, gear up (the port landing gear and engine
were in flames). I'm not a pilot so I doubt it I have this exactly right but
I watched it happen and to the best of my recollection, this is what
First of all. the Chief in charge of the crash
crew had complained for some time that his equipment and the amount of foam
he could lay down on the runway was inadequate considering the size and
construction (mucho magnesium) of the large four engine WV's that
had recently been assigned to Argentia. Unfortunately, he was right.
As he touched down, the pilot most skillfully
bounced the aircraft onto the "guppy" (a fiberglass module on the bottom of
the aircraft, full of electronics) crushing and scattering it to get it out
of the way. Please remember, he was already maneuvering so that the fire was
away from the fuselage. As he touched down to accomplish this spectacular
but necessary move, the port wing tip gas tank hit the runway, broke off,
ignited and took off like a rocket. The pilot then set the plane down
a second time in what foam there was and bellied in to a stop right in front
of the crash crew station. Some of the aircrew "bailed out" while the plane
was still skidding down the runway. Good old crash crew in action again.
They ran over one of the guys as he jumped from the burning plane. As I
remember, thankfully, that one resulted in only a broken leg. Due to the
lack of foam and equipment that had been requested, we stood there and
watched the brand new, multimillion dollar, probably otherwise repairable,
state of the art aircraft, burn completely to ashes. All that was left were
the three signature tails of a Lockheed Constilation and what was left of
the smoldering engines sitting in a pool of blackened foam.
Like most of you, I have lots of stories to tell
about my time in Argentia, but I doubt you will put this on your site due to
the fact some might consider me too frank. But it was fun writing and
thinking about the distant past. Argentia is certainly a place I will never
forget, and I'm proud that I was there and especially proud I served in the
Navy, but the best thing I ever saw was Mae West fading in the distance, as
our plane headed back to the good old USA.
Joe Knight PH3, NS Argentia, NAS Miramar, and I
finally did go to sea: USS Yorktown CVS10, '59 to '63