MEMORIES OF ARGENTIA
BY
JOE KNIGHT

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 sea!
 
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 my choice.
 
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 minutely.

 
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 happened.
 
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