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Ops Summaries and Prop Wash

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The following articles were contributed by former members of VR-24. Anyone who has photos, stories, and material they wish to share is encouraged to send them to Dick Prather, editor of the VR-24 website.

Memorable Flight to the Midway

The COD mission could be challenging. It often exposed VR-24 Det Naples flight crews to the same hazards experienced by pilots and personnel assigned to air wings embarked on aircraft carriers operating in the Mediterranean. The following article by Gene Guidotte, a former TBM aircrewman in VR-24 Det, Naples, well illustrates the unpredictability of luck in matters of personal survival onboard the carriers.

We hauled out many tons of mail, etc., to carriers in the Med. When the USS Midway (CV-41) came over in early 1954, she had my old fighter squadron, VF-31, onboard. After landing aboard her in February or March, I asked my pilot to have us taken below where I could shoot the breeze with my old buddies and maybe pick up some Sea-Stores cigarettes. They were better than the Monopol brand that we got in the European area Px’s. I may have used a maintenance problem as an excuse to get below.

While visiting below we heard an explosion on the flight deck. A Banshee from VF-31 had jumped the barrier, landing in the pack and killing the pilot and two others. The Midway was still "straight-deck" so when the Banshee jumped the barriers it landed on another VF-31 aircraft that had just parked. The pilot of that plane had just stood up to deplane when he was landed on. He was one of the fatalities, as was his enlisted plane captain and the pilot of the bouncing Banshee. I knew both the pilot of the plane that was landed on and his plane captain. One of the fellows in the squadron got into sickbay to see the plane captain who was still hanging on to life. His last words were, "Did my pilot make it?"

As soon as we heard the explosion on the flight deck we went up a side ladder to where, from a spot on the portside sponson, we could see a horrible scene of flame, smoke, and wreckage. If we hadn't gone below we would have been in the middle of the whole mess. It was obvious that we were still in the wrong place (on the sponson) so we returned to our TBMs.

Thirteen aircraft were destroyed and subsequently shoved over the side. The deck was cleared in a short time. We took off that afternoon trying to get the smell of foam and smoke out of our heads.

The Navy got pictures of the aircraft as it went over the barriers. They made a safety poster entitled "Up and Over." It hung in the FASRON’s Maintenance Office at Capodichinno for a long time.

Editor's note: The term straight-deck refers to the arrangement of all earlier aircraft carrier flight decks. On straight-deck carriers, aircraft tookoff and landed along the length, or axis, of the ship's centerline. The "angled-", or "canted-deck", introduced by the British and quickly adopted by the U.S. Navy in the 1950's, allowed for an off-set landing path. This arrangement provided for "safe" parking of aircraft clear of the landing area, thus sharply reducing the potential for accidents such as the one decribed by Gino. Straight decks are now found only on the U.S. Navy's large-deck, helo-equipped, amphibious-assault ships.

The "Gold Dust Twins"

On a lighter note, Gene Guidotte also contributed the following. He says it is a true story. The names are omitted to protect the innocent.

The U.S. Naval Air Facility (NAF) was located at Capodochino Airport on the eastern outskirts of Naples. It was a typical overseas Naval facility so it was no surprise to find in residence the usual cast of characters that were always present no matter where you went in the Navy. Among the most notorious Navy phenomena was, of course, the Phantom Shi**er, whose presence was highly valued by sailors aboard many ships and a few shore stations. He was last reported to be onboard a Flagship in the Pacific depositing his calling card in various watch officers’ hats. Naples was proud of the fact that they at least had the "Gold Dust Twins".

Everyone knows the Gold Dust Twins. They are the guys who are always on the brink of court-martial. They are always doing the most outlandish activity and usually getting away with it. The twins in this case were a Ship’s Cook and a member of Air Freight. Both were assigned to the NAF and drawing per diem because of the lack of a barracks. They roomed together at a small hotel on Via Garibaldi, which catered mainly to visiting Italian businessmen. How they managed to gain residence there is a mystery since the management did not approve of wild behavior, or anything that wore a white hat.

Our cook and freight handler both shared a passion for firearms and locally tailored suits. The cook had purchased a very expensive over/under Beretta shotgun. It was a beautiful weapon with fine engraving and an exquisite checkered stock. Our freight handler preferred side arms and he had purchased a set of Beretta automatic pistols, complete with hand-tooled leather shoulder holsters that he wore under his tailored Italian suit coat.

The hotel had a small bar off of the lobby and a bartender who always appeared from nowhere anytime a customer elbowed up to the bar. Each evening after work our two heroes would dress and visit the bar. The cook was never seen with his weapon, although he did appear to be rather stiff-legged at times. However, his partner would pose at the bar, foot on rail, suit coat flipped back so that the butts of his Berettas were revealed. They soon gained a reputation and were nicknamed "Shotgun" and "Two-Gun", the "Gold Dust Twins."

One night the Gold Dust Twins were partied out and, as was their habit, were lying on their beds cleaning their weapons. A pesky fly buzzing around the room landed first on one and then the other Twin. Finally, the fly landed on the wall opposite the beds. One of the Twins, no one knows for sure which, hollered "GET EM."

Both shotgun barrels were discharged. The pistols clips were emptied. An Italian covered with plaster and various debris ran screaming down the hall. He had been the Twins' neighbor. A large hole was blown in the wall, dust hung in the air and covered everything. The smell of gun smoke wafted through the halls.

The Twins were still cleaning their weapons when the U.S. Navy Shore Patrol, Italian Police, Fire Department, Italian Army, Riot Squad and various Ambulance and Emergency vehicles converged on the scene. The Shore Patrol escorted the two now-disarmed fly killers, we're not sure about the flie’s condition but shall assume its demise, to Shore Patrol Headquarters where they spent the night.

They were at work the next morning. "Two gun" had already called the hotel management complaining about the hole in the wall and how he was hoping it would be fixed before he got home. "Shotgun" didn't talk much. He was still bruised from the double-barrel recoil.

After a week or two, the whole incident became history. The Twins had gotten restriction, which they served at their hotel, and a severe tongue lashing from a very exasperated Commanding Officer

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