BY: JACK SPROUSE
All Will Cain ever wanted to be was a Navy Aviator. As incongruous as it seemed, his having been born and raised in Colorado and being instilled with a love for the mountains, he had a love for flying and for the sea. When he was sent to the Naval Air Station, in Brunswick, Maine and became a crewmember on an ASW (Anti-Submarine-Warfare) Navy Patrol aircraft, he knew he had found his life’s work. Then he met Jamie Dunham, a local girl who lived in Brunswick with her family, and his life changed forever.
Will Cain sat in the forward observation station of a Lockheed P2V Neptune US Navy Patrol Aircraft, flying out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. with his binoculars held to his eyes, scanning the air and the sea, above, in front of and below the aircraft. A tiny speck appeared in the distance. It was barely visible even with the glasses.
Slowly the object drew closer as the plane approached. He could make out the form of a small boat or ship on the water but could see no flag or other markings. He clicked the button on his handset to notify the pilot.
“I’ve got a ship on the surface at nine o’clock low,” he said. The pilot acknowledged and turned in that direction for a closer look.
“It’s Cuban,” Cain said, “I can see the flag.”
It was a Cuban Navy Gunboat, not too unlike an American Coast Guard Cutter but not as large. Two double-barreled gun emplacements immediately began tracking the Neptune as it circled the little ship.
Cain swallowed hard and slid his seat all the way out into the Plexiglas bubble so he could better observe what was happening on the water below.
“This shit is real,” he said out loud.
After A-School in Memphis, Will Cain received orders to report for duty with VP-21, an ASW (Anti- Submarine Warfare) squadron stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine. Three days on a Greyhound bus brought him to the main gate facility on August 1, 1960 and a duty driver drove him to the VP-21 hangar.
“Where are the planes?” he asked the driver.
“The squadron is on deployment,” the man said, “they’ll be back in a week or two.”
Will found the Duty Office on the second level of the hangar and knocked on the door. A voice from inside the office said, “come on in, it’s open.”
Will opened the door and stepped into the office. Behind the desk sat a Lieutenant JG who appeared to be busying himself with some paperwork on the desktop. “What can I do for you?” The man asked.
Will saluted then took off his hat. “Cain, William J reporting for duty, Sir,” he said.
“Yes, I’ve been expecting you, I’m Lieutenant JG Kyle Murphy. I’ve been sent back with a small crew to get the facility ready for the rest of the squadron when they return from deployment, that should be any day now. I see you’re an electrician. I can put you in charge of the electric shop. But first you need to go check into the barracks and get settled in. When you’re finished come on back and I’ll give you a tour of the hangar.”
“How do I get to the Barracks?”
“I’ll get our Duty Driver to take you. Check in with Ben Wattigney, it’s spelled Wat-tig-ney but he says it Watney, so don’t call him Wat-tig-ney. Ben is an AD 1, lifer, and a bit crusty but sometimes he’s pretty congenial.
“Hey Martinez,” the Lieutenant yelled, and a young man with green Airman Stripes on his sleeve came in from an adjoining room.
“Yes Sir, Mister Murphy,” he said.
“This man is William Cain,” he said, nodding toward Will. “He’s a new man in the Electric Shop. He needs to go to the barracks and get checked in. Go with him and find Wattigney to get him situated.”
“Yes, sir,” Martinez said. “Come on, man, follow me. You go by William?”
“I go by Will usually but I’ll answer to Cain. My dad is named William and he goes by Bill, go figure.”
Martinez chuckled, “nobody goes by their real names around here. My name is Robert but I’m called Bobby, that’s what my folks always called me. I’m from New Mexico, where are you from?”
“We’re close, I’m from Colorado,” Will replied, “Denver actually, born and raised.”
“My family used to take me and my brothers to Pikes Peak in the summer, when I was a kid,” Martinez said. “I’ve never been there in the winter though. I spent last winter here and that was no fun.”
Will nodded. “It’s not so bad in Colorado, as long as you’re not in the mountains. It gets cold, of course but if the wind is not blowing and you’re in a bright sun it can be thirty degrees and you’ll be comfortable in a T-shirt. How bad does it get around these parts?”
“Pretty damned bad,” he said. “You see how these barracks are built, with the covered walk connecting them? They form a courtyard between them and the wind blows the snow in and it piles up in drifts almost up to the second floor and the walkways are completely covered, it’s like walking in a snow cave. So, it’s best to bunk on the second floor so you don’t get claustrophobia or something. It gets spooky on the first floor when you can’t see out of the windows for the piled-up snow.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Will said, “thanks for the info.”
Ben Wattigney was, as Lieutenant Murphy had described him, loud and ‘crusty’ but with a degree of congeniality about him. He was constantly shouting orders to his crew of E-1 Recruits and E-2 Apprentices, directing them to sweep and clean the third floor or run the buffer on the second floor. Each man had a walkie-talkie which gave Ben instant contact with them. Every man had to be busy all the time, that was the Navy way, according to Ben Wattigney. He kept them running and working, busying himself with finding things for them to do.
Wattigney was nearing the end of his thirty years in the Navy and had been given the relatively cushy job of overseeing the cleaning and upkeep of the squadron living quarters. He normally had a crew of six or seven men but at this time he had been sent back from deployment with only four men to prepare for the squadron’s return. He was about forty-eight or so, as best Will could figure (he was in fact only forty-five), the same age as Will’s dad only much more haggard looking. Will assumed he drank a lot because his face was puffy and wrinkled.
He would learn later that Wattigney had joined the Navy at eighteen in 1933 and had been at NAS Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, working and flying as a crewmember on Navy PBYs, when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. He saw duty at various locations across the Pacific, as the United States pushed the Japanese Navy back toward its homeland. Wattigney saw many of his aircraft destroyed by Japanese bombs. He still often voiced his hatred of the Japanese for blowing up his PBY and killing many of his friends at Kaneohe Bay the day the war started.
“So, you’re fresh out of A School?” Wattigney asked Will.
“Yes Sir,” Will responded.
“You don’t have to call me Sir, Son. I’m not an officer.” Wattigney said.
“I’m sorry, I meant no offense.”
The man got a laugh out of that. “Just call me Ben, all the guys call me Ben. I see you got your Crow, how did you manage that so fast?”
“I joined the Reserve when I was still in high school,” Will said. “I went for aviation and made E-3 by the time I chose to go on active duty. I made E-4 right before I finished A School. I want to go on crew as soon as I can.”
“Well good for you, Cain,” Wattigney said. “You shouldn’t have any problem doing that. Now, back to the business at hand, where do you want to bunk?”
“Bobby Martinez, the duty driver, said the second floor would be best because of the snow drifts in the winter. So, I guess I’ll try the second floor.”
“Second floor it is,” he said and yelled for one of his men to take Will to the second floor and let him pick out a cubicle. He then went to his desk and retrieved a combination lock and gave it to Will for his locker.
The cubicles were equipped for four men but Wattigney’s man informed him that only two men ever occupied one cubicle. Will picked out a cubicle near the bathroom and his escort left to get his sheets and blanket. He quickly returned with the bed gear and left Will alone to unpack his seabag and make his bed.
He walked back to the hangar and checked in with Lieutenant Murphy. The Lieutenant took him to the Electric Shop and gave him a list of the equipment that would be arriving on the transports. “The MATS (Military Air Transport Service) should be arriving with our gear tomorrow,” Murphy told him. My hangar crew will bring all the containers into the hangar and it’ll be up to you to get all the electrical stuff into your shop and storage bins. The forklift is available and I can get you some help if you need it.”
“I’ll be okay Mister Murphy. I can drive the forklift.”
“Okay then, but don’t hesitate to ask for a hand if you need it. We’ve got a lot of work to do before the troops come home.”
“I won’t,” Will said, “thank you.
The packing crates were brought into the hangar and separated, as well as could be expected, by trades and by the various offices. Will found the boxes marked Electric Shop and began dragging them to the staging area in front of the space. He carried the tool boxes to the appropriate bins and the spare parts to theirs. Drawings and schematics were placed on the tables provided and other pieces of equipment were either filed or stored in the designated locations. He thoroughly cleaned the work spaces and tables and attached the locks Lieutenant Murphy had given him to the bins and doors to ensure that nothing disappeared. The Lieutenant told him to put the keys in the Duty Office key cabinet. In two days, he had the shop shipshape and everything cleaned, put away, and secured.
“Damn, Cain, you’re not afraid of work, are you?” Lieutenant Murphy said. “You’re the only one finished, these other guys are sloughing off a bit. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go into town?”
Will had no vehicle so he asked where he could catch a bus into town. After changing into his civvies, he walked to the bus stop on the base and rode into town. Brunswick, Maine was a quaint town compared to Denver. People were not as friendly but Will would eventually learn that, once you got to know them, they weren’t much different from people anywhere else. They talked funny, he noted, but he could understand them.
He had lunch at Clare’s Grill and the food was good. The waitress, a woman named Betty according to her name tag, flirted with him and gave him free refills of his coke. “You just get into town?” she asked him.
Will nodded, “I’m in VP-21.”
“The Black Jack Squadron,” she said, “my ex-husband was in VP-23 but he didn’t work out.”
Will did not pursue the details of why the Former became the Ex.
Betty was about ten years older than he was, Will estimated, and not unattractive but not a real head-turner either. Her personality though was engaging so he talked with her without flirting back. “Where you from, Doll,” she asked him.
“Colorado, Denver,” he told her.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Colorado—just never got the chance. Maybe you can take me with you on your next Leave,” she said, smiling at him.
“Why not? He said. “I’m sure my mom would like to meet you.”
“Your mom, huh? Well at least you don’t have a wife. How old are you, Sailor?”
“I’m nineteen,” Will said.
“Oh shit, just my luck, I’m old enough to be your mother.”
“No, you’re not,” he quickly responded, you can’t be that old.”
“I’m thirty-five, young man.”
Well you certainly don’t look that old, “I would have figured you for around twenty-nine or so.”
“Oh, thanks, I appreciate that,” she said, “you’re quite a charmer. Just watch out for these local girls, they’re always looking to marry a Navy man so they can get the hell out of here.”
“Why?” He asked. “This seems like a pretty nice place to live. I’m going to be here a while so I better like it.”
“I guess it’s as good as anyplace if you’re from here. I was born and raised here so I don’t know any better.”
“Well thanks for the advice, I’ll be on guard lest some local girl tries to marry me when I’m not looking.”
She laughed and handed him his check. “Come back in anytime you’re in town,” she said.
“I will, Betty, thanks,” he told her, then paid the cashier and left.
MATS planes arrived with the squadron personnel on the fifth of August and the aircraft flew in the next day. Will was in the Electric Shop when a big Chief Petty Officer walked in. Chief Raymond (Ray) Purcell was a big man, at least six feet four and starting to plump up a bit. Purcell was a loud man with little regard for social graces. “Who are you?” he addressed to Will.
Cain, William J, Chief. I’ve been assigned to the Electric Shop. I’m an AE-3 just out of A School,” Will replied.
“I can see that,” the Chief responded. “Are you the man who put everything in order here?”
“Yes Sir, Chief,” Will told him. “I think I’ve got everything in place. If you can’t find something just let me know, I made an inventory list of where I stored things.
“Good work,” the Chief said, “thank you. Some of the men will be going on leave since they’ve been gone five months so I’m happy to have the extra help. We’ll resume operations right away and most of the planes will need scheduled inspections.”
“Okay, Chief, just tell me what you want me to do.”
“You can work with John Dolinski, he’s my lead man. Ski will get the schedules and bitch lists and show you what to do.”
When Will returned to the barracks after work the place was filled with the new residents. In his own cubicle, he encountered a red-haired lanky kid with a boyish face unpacking his seabag. “Oh, hey guy, how you doin’?” he asked, and extended his hand. “I’m Jimmy Watson.”
Will shook his hand, “Cain, Will Cain,” he said. “Glad to meet you. Welcome to the cube.”
“Thanks,” Jimmy said. “I wanted to be close to the shitter, I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, not at all, that’s why I picked this cube. What do you do in the Squadron?”
“I’m a Tron, Radioman on LH 12. You’re a Sparky I see, you goin’ on crew?”
“I hope to,” Will said. But right now, I’m just working in the Electric Shop.”
“So, you met Ski, Dolinski I mean? He’s a good guy, one of the best, I hear from the other guys.”
“Yeah, yeah, I worked with him a couple of days,” Will said. “He sure seems to know a lot. He went over the schematics with me and showed me how to troubleshoot a little. I’ve got a lot to learn. Until I got here, I’d only been to A School so I don’t have much hands-on experience.”
“It just takes time and effort, like anything else I guess,” Jimmy said. “Hey, I got to go meet my buddy Andy, he’s the second Mech. On my crew. We’re going into town, I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Okay, Will said and nodded, nice talking to you.”
Jimmy hustled out of the cube and ran down the corridor to the exit door.
The Squadron had resumed full operation status and there were typically two aircraft at a time in the hangar undergoing maintenance. The Neptune was not a beautiful airplane, it was sort of cumbersome looking, but it was an interesting aircraft, and rather unique in appearance Will thought. The forward observation station, called ‘The Bubble’ by most crewmembers was a Plexiglas covered compartment with a chair on rails. The chair could slide back and forth all the way up to the front of the space and back out to permit exit from the chair and the compartment. Access was gained by climbing a ladder located on the aft bulkhead of the nose wheel well. A hatch, immediately above the entry ladder, permitted entry to the flight deck and the rest of the aircraft. The flight deck, just aft of the Cockpit, housed the electronic equipment along the starboard side of the aircraft on a shelf where the AT’s (Electronic Technicians) sat to operate the gear.
The radar equipment was located in a compartment called the Radome, just behind the nose wheel well. A small hatch door permitted entry into the space. There was also a hatch in the floor of the aft fuselage near the sonobuoy chutes. On either side of the aircraft were two windows for observers who sat in chairs provided for that purpose. The windows could be lifted up and snapped into retainers on the inside of the fuselage. Men would often rest their arms on the edge of the opening much like riding in a car. From these locations, and from the forward observation station, the camera crews operated.
Although searching for submarines and surface warships was the primary mission of the Neptune crews much of the flight time was spent in surveillance of commercial shipping. This involved photographing each ship, determining its name, plotting its position, course and speed, and noting significant information about any visible cargo and whether it was loaded or in ballast. The squadron was also involved in monitoring and filming the fleets of Russian Trawlers off the east coast of the United States and shot some of the clips seen in a ‘Twentieth Century’ program called ‘Red Ships off our Shores’.
The protrusion on the back of the aircraft housed the MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) gear. This instrumentation was used to detect minute variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. A mass of ferromagnetic material, like a submarine, creates a detectable disturbance in magnetic field and locates the target via signals transmitted from a sonobuoy dropped into the sea from chutes in the back of the aircraft.
Will spent the next few months working in the Electric Shop, doing routine hour inspections on the various aircrafts, and replacing parts. The worst part was working on a plane outside in the cold. Many times, the ground crews had to clear a path through the snow just to get to the plane. It was brutally cold and impossible to work on an airplane with gloves on. A man would have to warm his hands in his pocket for a few minutes and then turn screws and nuts & bolts to remove a part and then replace it. It was an arduous process. Their fingers would get so cold they would sting mightily.
Will stayed after working hours to study the schematics (wiring diagrams) to learn more about how the various systems operated. They had taught him to read schematics at A School but his education had not been specific to the Neptune and he found it fascinating to trace the wiring systems through the numerous compartments. Each wire in a system had its own number, usually a six or seven-digit number that appeared at every termination of the wire in the specific system.
One who was adept at reading schematics could look at a particular item, such as a relay, and see which position it should be in when a given condition is known. If a relay is supposed to be in the open position when a particular piece of equipment, such as the landing gear, is up then he can simulate that condition by manipulating a microswitch that indicates that condition, then check the relay with a multimeter such as the TS297/U and determine if the device is working properly. A single relay may cause several actions to take place at once. One set of contacts may control indicator lights and another set on the same relay may turn on an equipment cooling fan for another system.
LH-12 was in the hangar for some regular maintenance and with a few discrepancies, or items on the bitch-list as they were called. Chief Purcell told Will to check out the pilot’s complaint about the G2 compass and Will took the drawings with him into the aircraft. He first determined that the equipment had no power supply, so he was tracing the circuitry back to the equipment rack in the back compartment of the plane. An inspection of the black box that controlled the equipment revealed a loose cannon plug on the back. The plug had apparently vibrated loose, and the pin connection had been broken, preventing power from going to the unit. Will tightened the plug and safety-wired it then turned the equipment on and found that it was working properly.
As he exited the aircraft an officer approached him. “I’m Lieutenant Powell,” the man said. “This is my airplane. You’re the electrician, right?”
“Yes Sir, Mister Powell, Cain is my name.”
“Alright, Cain, it’s nice to meet you.” Will nodded. “Can you check out my G2 compass?” Powell asked him. “It wasn’t working when we flew in last night.”
“I fixed it,” Will said, “a cannon plug had come loose and the unit was not getting power.”
“Show me, if you don’t mind,” the Lieutenant said.
Will showed him the equipment and the guilty plug. “I tightened it and safety-wired it. It’s working now.”
“What the hell would have caused that?” Powell said.
“I don’t know, Sir. Maybe the last time they replaced the black box they didn’t tighten it all the way.”
“Did they not safety-wire it either?” he asked, visibly concerned.
Will realized that he had to be careful what he said. All maintenance on the airplanes was documented so a record of when the equipment was last checked would be available for review. He knew he could be getting someone in hot water but at the same time he wanted to shoot straight with the officer. “I will let Chief Purcell know about this and I also wrote it on the discrepancy log,” Will said.
“Thanks, Cain,” Powell told him. “I appreciate your fixing it.”
“No problem, Sir,” Will Replied and saluted. “Nice to meet you.”
Powell returned the salute. “You too,” he said.
Will told the Chief about his repairing the compass and passed on his conversation with the Lieutenant. Purcell was not pleased.
“That lazy fuckin’ Harris,” he blurted out. “He’s fucked up one too many times now. I’m going to write his ass up for this.”
Will learned that Frank Harris was the electrician on LH-12, Lieutenant Powell’s airplane. Harris was the same rank and rating as Will. His negligence in failing to properly connect the equipment, was only a minor inconvenience to the pilot on this occasion. But it could have been more serious, had it been a critical system on which he had been working. Chief Purcell did not get to be head of the Electric shop by being everyone’s friend and he did write up Harris, an act that resulted in Harris being grounded for a month.
“Get your head out of your ass, Frank,” Will heard the Chief yell at Harris, “or I’ll pull you off crew.”
Harris offered no excuses for his mistake, only an apology nor did he fault Will for finding it. Cain was only following procedure and was just doing his job. But Harris was given to laziness. He’d been in the Navy for eight years and in VP-21 for three of those years. This was not the first time he’d ‘screwed up’ and whether he would remain on flight crew status was up to Lieutenant Powel.
One Friday afternoon, after work, Will was sitting on his bunk writing a letter to his folks when Sam Kinney, First Mech. On LH-12, walked in. “You seen Egg Money?” He asked Will.
“I don’t know what that is.” Will replied.
“Egg Money…Jimmy Watson, my Radioman.” Kinney said.
“Oh, Jimmy’s in the Head.”
Kinney left and returned a few minutes later with the aforementioned Radioman, Jimmy Watson. Watson quickly dressed While Sam Kinney waited impatiently. “Hey Will,” Jimmy said, “you want to go into town with us? We’re going to have a few beers and maybe go over to Lewiston and look for girls.”
Will thought for a moment and Sam Kinney motioned with his head. “Yeah Will, come on with us,” he said. You’ve been working way too hard from what I hear, you could use some diversion.”
Will consented and changed into his civilian clothes. They all got into Kinney’s ’56 black and yellow Chevy and headed off the base. “I have to pick up some cleaning at J & J,” Kinney said.
“Sam only comes here because he’s in love with the girl who works the counter,” Jimmy confided to Will as they pulled into the parking lot of the Cleaners. “He thinks she’s Miss America but I think she’s too skinny.”
“She’s not skinny,” Sam retorted. “She’s perfect.”
“She’s got no tits.” Jimmy said, with resignation.
“She has tits, Will, don’t listen to him.” Sam responded. “Egg Money likes fat girls.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask why you call Jimmy Egg Money.” Will said. “Why ‘do’ you call him Egg Money?”
“I gave him that name,” Sam said. “Jimmy met a farm girl at the Farmer’s Market in Brunswick. She was bringing her dad’s eggs in to sell them. Her dad apparently lets her keep the money from her sale of the eggs, sort of like an allowance I guess. Well it seems that Brunhilda…
“Patty,” Jimmy interjected. “Her name is Patty, not Brunhilda.”
“Oh, right, Patty, I’m sorry Jimmy,” Sam said. “So, Patty spotted Jimmy Watson and was smitten. She took him to lunch with the money she made off the eggs, and she takes him out every time she comes into town with the cackle berries.”
“Hence the term, Egg Money,” Will said, “I get it.”
“Exactly,” Sam said. “And that’s how Jimmy got his war name.”
The girl running the cash register at J & J Cleaners seemed not to notice the three Navy men as they entered the shop. She didn’t look up until Sam Kinney approached the counter with his ticket. She took the ticket and went to retrieve his clothes, hung them on the hangar by the register, and rang up his bill. “That will be Two dollars and seventy-five cents,” she told him.
“How about dinner and a movie tomorrow night Jamie?” he asked her. She shook her head.
“I’ve told you Sam my dad doesn’t let me date Navy guys.”
“But you’re eighteen,” he said. “Aren’t you old enough to decide for yourself now?”
“I still live at home so I respect his wishes,” she told him. She glanced up at Will and her eyes caught his. Something happened that he did not try to comprehend at the time and something on which he would not speculate, but he felt a fluttering sensation in his stomach near his solar plexus as her eyes smiled at him. He was just a little embarrassed because it was noticeable to Sam and Jimmy. Jimmy smiled broadly and Sam almost groaned.
“She likes Will,” Jimmy said after they were back in the car.
“Remind me not to bring you with me next time,” Sam responded. “I’ve been trying to get her to go out with me for almost a year now and you walk in one time and she’s smiling at you and don’t know I’m alive.”
“Women are flighty, she probably just did that to make you jealous,” Will told him, but he knew better. Perhaps he was projecting his own feelings onto the girl’s and assuming she’d had the same sensation he did, but he didn’t think so. There had been a connection between them he was convinced, when their eyes met. Sam was right, she was a pretty girl, one that many men would consider beautiful. One taken with her, as was Sam Kinney, would certainly have described her as beautiful. She had shoulder length blonde hair and strangely smoky blue eyes. Her build, not skinny but almost skinny, was slender and Will figured her to be about 5’ 4” and appeared to be very demure and vulnerable, but the confidence she displayed in dealing with Sam belied that notion.
“I know where Will is going to be bringing his cleaning from now on,” Jimmy said, to Sam’s chagrin. Will brushed aside the comment and said nothing.
By December the snow was piled up on the median along Maine Street so high that you could not see the buildings on the other side. Even for one accustomed to heavy snow it was a surprise. He’d seen two feet of snow regularly in Denver but they didn’t usually leave it piled up like that. They often had to get plows to clear a path out to the airplanes on the ramp so they could get to them to work or for the flight crews to prepare them for a mission. Will had seen such snow accumulation in the mountains but ‘down on the ground’ as he referred to the eastern plain, it was a rare occurrence.
Will applied for two weeks Christmas leave and it was approved so he planned to go home for the holidays. He flew out of Portland, changed planes in Chicago, and arrived at Stapleton Airport to find his mom and dad waiting for him. He cut a handsome figure in his Dress Blues and White Hat, his mother told him. She cried as he hugged her. His dad shook his hand and then hugged him. “You look sharp, Son. He said. How’re they treating you?”
“Good, Dad, I’m working in the Electric shop and learning a lot. I haven’t applied to get on crew yet but I intend to. Where are Tommy and Julie?”
“They’re getting the house ready for you,” his mother said.
The drive to the Cain home in Lakewood took about forty-five minutes and when they got there, Will saw a huge banner across the front of the house that read WELCOME HOME WILL. Some of the neighbors were braving the cold, and standing on the front porch with Will’s brother and sister, to greet him. He was a little uncomfortable with all the attention but he acted pleased. For their benefit, and greeted, hugged and shook hands and thanked everyone for being there.
Bill and Ellen Cain had three children, the oldest they named William after his father. They called him Will to avoid any confusion in addressing father and son. A girl they named Julie, after Ellen Cain’s mother, followed two years later and a second son two years after that. The Cains were a close family. Both parents had planned greater things for their eldest son than a hitch in the Navy. They had wanted him to go to college, Colorado University preferably, but Will had other ideas. The boy was filled with Wanderlust from the time he first started walking. When he got older he often borrowed his dad’s pickup truck and went off into the mountains for two days at a time, sleeping in the bed of the truck with his rifle and his Labrador retriever he called Boxer.
His folks had kept his room for him, just as he’d left it, and it felt good to be sleeping in familiar surroundings. The military life was unstable by its very nature. He was subject to deployment at just about any time. Everything he owned in life could be packed into his seabag and one additional suitcase he kept for his civilian clothes. Patrol Squadron Sailors rarely wore their uniforms ‘on the beach’ meaning off base. One would travel in uniform when on Leave because commercial airlines offered free airfare on standby status, depending on availability, if the man wore his uniform.
Will loved being home for short periods of time to see his folks and his siblings, but he carried the feeling with him that he would probably never come back to live here permanently. He asked his dad for a loan to buy a car to take back with him to Maine. “I have about a thousand dollars saved up but I want a new car. A used one might break down. If you can loan me the rest, I’ll make regular payments,” he said.
“Let’s finance the car in your name and I’ll co-sign for you,” Bill Cain suggested. “That way it will help you build up a good credit rating.”
“Thanks Dad, I appreciate it.” Will said.
Bill Cain was 44 years old and graying a bit around the temples. He was at a time in his life when his appearance was starting to change. He was no longer a robust young man but was not yet old enough to be considered ‘over the hill.’ The graying hair gave him a distinguished look and he had kept his slender build so Will’s father was not a homely man. Having started a hardware store when Will was still a baby, and expanding that store into a chain of stores across Colorado, the Cains were fairly well off. He could easily have bought his son a new car right out, as a gift but he sought to give Will the opportunity and the responsibility to pay for the car himself. Will agreed with the sentiment and did appreciate his father’s help.
He found a blue 1961 Ford Falcon he liked. The price was $2,100. Will put up $800 for a down payment, and kept the extra money for his trip back. He would make 24 payments of $75 each which included the interest on the loan. He would now be independent and not have to rely on the other guys for a ride into town. His horizons had suddenly expanded. Buying the car meant that he had to leave home three days early in order to get back before his Leave was up. He was back in Brunswick on the third of January.
The car was a big hit with the guys in the squadron. Sam Kinney smiled devilishly and nodded his head up and down and told him “I know what you’re doing, Will, don’t try to put no shit past me. You got that car because of the girl at the cleaners, didn’t you?
Will started shaking his head but Sam would not have it. “Come on now,” he said, wagging his finger, “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. You ought to know that by now.”
Will smiled slightly, knowing that Sam was probably right. He had been thinking about Jamie, even remembered her name, and he knew that the car would at least improve his chances of meeting her.
“Ha, I was right, you’re going to try and take my girl away from me, ain’t you?”
Jimmy Watson was listening and joined in the ribbing. “That girl don’t even know you exist, Sam. I see the way she looks at Will. You’re wasting your time. You been wasting your time for a year now, taking clothes in to get cleaned, hell, you even took some clothes in once that was already clean.”
Sam laughed and nodded his head in agreement with Jimmy’s conclusion.
“Don’t feel too bad, Sam,” Will said. “I’ll tell her what a great guy she passed up. She’ll regret letting you get away from her, one day.”
Jimmy laughed and Sam just said, “aw bullshit.”
While Frank Harris was grounded, Lt. Powell requested that Will be assigned to his crew to a temporary basis to fill in for his errant electrician. Chief Purcell was reluctant at first. He had come to consider Will one of his best troubleshooters but he didn’t want to hold the boy back from advancing his career so he consented to Powell’s request. Will would be a standby crewmember and would draw flight pay. The only condition was that he log at least 4 hours a month in the air. This was not a difficult requirement since most patrols lasted 10 hours or longer.
“Do you know how to operate the ECM gear, Cain?” Powell asked him.”
“Yes Sir,” Will replied, I learned it in A School.”
“Good, if I need you on that I’ll let you know, but for now you can ride in the bubble and keep me apprised of anything you see, on the water or in the air. Got that?”
“Yes Sir,” Will said “got it.”
His first flight came about a week later when the crew was assigned to what Jimmy Watson called a ‘Bravo Sierra’ mission. Will made the mistake of referring to the flight as a ‘Bravo Sierra’ in earshot of Lt. Powell and Powell asked him where he heard the term. “Watson told me that was the designation for this mission, Mister Powell.” Will said.
“Egg Money, I’m not surprised. These guys are going to mess with you until you earn your place here, Cain. Don’t pay too much attention to them. Bravo Sierra means bullshit. That’s just Watson’s way of tweaking the nose of authority.”
“I’m sorry, I thought he was serious.”
“His nickname is Egg Money. Do you expect a man with that name to be serious?”
“I guess not,” Will said, smiling, “thank you Sir.”
Will climbed the ladder up into the nose wheel well and crawled into the forward observation station, the bubble it was called by most of the crewmembers. He sat himself down in the chair and slid it in and out to make sure it was working properly. The aircraft started lumbering out to the runway and turned to the left when it reached the takeoff point. Will had only flown on commercial airplanes up to this point and he expected them to take off right away but they stopped for a short while and then the pilot ran up the engines to full throttle. The plane shook dramatically and Will was afraid that one of the engines might blow a gasket, but neither of them did as they started rolling down the runway. The excitement was almost more than he could bear. He felt full, full of life and full of himself. Here he was at nineteen and the Navy trusted him with the most important job on the airplane, if you didn’t count the pilot that is. He was responsible for informing the aircraft commander of any threat to the airplane from above or below. In his mind, it was a critical service he had to perform. He knew this would all sound silly to someone else, if he told them what he was thinking, but that was how this experience made him feel.
They reached the roll point and the nose of the plane lifted off the runway and climbed into the sky. Below, the snow-covered landscape rushed by at an ever-increasing speed as Will observed farmhouses and highways and dozens of inlets along the rocky coast of the state of Maine. Then they were out over the Atlantic and the airplane seemed to quit trying so hard and settled down into cruising speed. They would fly to a predetermined point to begin their wide area patrol. Basically, they would fly around in a circle for ten hours or so and Will would keep them safe from harm. After four hours in the air he had not spotted so much as a seagull and Will was starting to understand why he was assigned this duty.
It had been dark for about an hour when Lt. Powell informed him that he could leave his post and come to the back of the plane to get some food and take a nap, if he were so inclined. Will climbed up to the flight deck and crawled over the wing beam and stopped to talk to Jimmy Watson in the radio compartment for a few minutes, then went to the back of the plane to find a spot to lie down. He was awakened by Andy Malik, the Second Mech. on the crew, telling him they were about to land.
“We’re back home,” Malik told him. “Did you have fun?”
“It was more exciting than I expected,” Will said, smiling, and Malik laughed.
“It gets better, Will, these ASW patrols can be boring as hell, but we do a lot of surface ship reconnaissance and that really is fun. I run the cameras sometimes and the guy in the bubble has a lot more to do. Besides, we take a lot of road trips to far off exotic places. Word is you’ll be on crew soon, you’ll get to love it.”
“I actually loved it,” Will said. “Yeah, it was boring but it was such a rush. Being all alone up there in the bubble was almost like a religious experience. I can’t wait until I get to go again.”
Andy smiled knowingly. “I had the same feeling the first time I went up. Like I said, word is that you’ll be going with us again soon. Mister Powell likes you and I’m hearing that Frank may be taken off crew and odds are that you’ll replace him.”
“Are you serious, Andy?”
“I am,” he said. “Chief Purcell says you’re his best troubleshooter, except for Ski, and Lieutenant Powell has taken a liking to you. Frank Harris is a nice enough fella’ but he’s a drunk and he’s lazy. He may have shit in his Dixie Cup one too many times.” Dixie cup was vernacular for a sailor’s white hat, his regulation head wear.
“I don’t wish him any trouble but I do want to go on crew. I hate for it to be at his expense.”
“Don’t worry about it, Will,” Andy said. “If it happens it happens, it won’t be your fault he fucked up.”
Andy Malik had been born and raised in Lewiston, Maine. It was by a quirk of fate that he had drawn NAS, Brunswick as a duty station so he was close to home and usually spent at least one weekend a month with his folks. That was all he could take, he explained. He knew the Lewiston-Auburn area and knew a lot of girls from high school so Andy was popular with the other members of his crew. Andy had no car so Sam Kinney would often drive him to his parent’s house in Lewiston and his Dad would bring him back to the base.
Will started hanging out with Jimmy Watson and Sam Kinney and they usually went places in Sam’s car, but since Will came back from Christmas Leave with a new car, he had become their go to guy. They started treating him like a member of the crew even though it had not yet been made official. Will was too young to drink so he was the logical duty driver. Andy was also too young to drink but he had a fake driver’s license. It was not actually a fake license but rather an old license he’d gotten, and altered to appear current, from an older cousin who lived up-state somewhere.
Andy was a handsome man but the license contained a picture of his cousin, who was not a handsome man. This often, brought comments from bartenders and bouncers who checked IDs at the door of the bars they frequented. Most just overlooked the obvious fake ID and let him drink. Only on a couple of occasions was he refused to be served beer. The drinking age in Maine was 21 but most folks believed that, if a man could serve in the military, he ought to be allowed to drink.
This Saturday it was Will’s turn to drive. The four of them got into his Ford Falcon and they drove into town. The snow was high in the middle of Maine Street and at one street corner someone or something walked out into the street right in front of the car. Will hit the brakes and yelled, “ah shit, what was that?”
“What was what,” Jimmy said.
“Somebody walked in front of my car.”
“I don’t see anything.”
Then Will noticed two hands on his hood. Apparently, someone was trying to pull himself up from the street. The person stood up and banged on the hood of the car with his fist then walked on across the street. “There he is,” Will said.
“That’s Fred,” Andy yelled. “He’s a fuckin’ midget,” and rolled down his passenger side window. “Hey Fred, get your midget ass out of the road. You wanna get killed?”
The little man turned and scowled back at the car. “Fuck you, assholes,” he said. “I have the right of way here.”
“Damn, I could have killed him,” Will said. “Who is that guy?”
“Fred has dual roles in Brunswick Town society,” Jimmy explained. “He’s the town midget and also the town drunk, saves the city fathers the trouble of having to designate two positions. Fred always drinks for free, everybody buys him drinks just because he’s Fred.”
They spent the day at the home of Andy’s parents. Andy’s mom made dinner for them and a few of Andy’s friends from the neighborhood, girls he knew, came over to mingle with him and his buddies from the base. Nearby there was a pretty good-sized hill that was covered with snow.
Andy’s girlfriend was Jeanie Randall and she brought two friends with her to meet Andy’s friends from the base, they were Bobbie Reynolds and Elaine Meador. Bobbie was not a pretty girl but, as the Navy men often described homely women, “had a great personality.” Sam Kinney, who fancied himself a ‘Ladies’ Man’ took an immediate shine to Elaine Meador. Elaine was very pretty with shoulder-length brown hair and all the accoutrements a man could want in a woman. “Is there anything I can do for you, beautiful?” he asked her.
Elaine brushed right past him and approached Will. “You can introduce me to your friend here,” She said.
“Aw crap, Will,” Sam said, being very animated and displaying mock frustration. “Did the Navy send you to VP-21 just to ruin my life?” They all laughed at that and Bobbie Reynolds went over to him and took his arm.
“You can do something for me,” she told him. “You can go snow disking with me.”
“Well hell, come on Girl, I can’t dance so I might as well die in the snow or up against a tree.”
The snow disk, or saucer, was a common item in Maine, along with sleds and toboggans. It was a round metal or plastic bowl on which usually only one person would sit and ride down a hill trying to avoid hitting a tree or falling off. But often two people would crunch together, always a guy and a girl, and ride the devious thing. It afforded the opportunity for a guy to get very close to a girl. The girl would hold on to the disk and the guy would hold on to the girl, pulling her up against him very tightly.
Elaine took Will by the arm of his coat, as they ascended the hill, and told him. “You’re with me, you have any problem with that?”
“No,” Will said, matter of factly.
“Well you sure have a way with words,” she said. “Maybe I should do all the talking.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Do you ever say more than one word at a time?” She asked him. “Or is this just your bashful boy routine?”
“I do, on occasion,” he told her. “I just was not expecting to meet the prettiest girl in the state of Maine tonight.”
“Oh, a bullshit artist,” she replied. “Are all you navy guys full of shit?
“No, I mean I don’t know, but I’m not. I was being honest. You’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen since I came here,” he lied. “Okay, let me start over. I’m not declaring that you are the prettiest girl in the state, I’m just saying you’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen so far. There may be lots of girls prettier than you in the State of Maine, I’m sure there are—” He paused a moment. “—or maybe not.”
She was laughing. “I was right. You’re all full of bullshit.”
Will was unaccustomed to the use of profanity by girls. It just did not happen in the world in which he grew up. Profanity was not permitted in his household at home. But this girl used it loosely and freely. He learned later that Elaine had three brothers and that was undoubtedly where she acquired the habit, or vice as the preference might be. But gosh, she was good looking and he was just hoping he could keep from making a fool of himself.
“Okay, here’s how it works, navy guy, you sit down on the disk first and I’ll get in your lap, Okay”
“Okay,” he said, and did as she ordered. They pushed off and started flying down the hill. He’d owned a sled back home but had never even seen a snow disk before today. He had no idea they could go so fast. Elaine was guiding the thing and appeared to know how to avoid hitting something hard, like a tree or a rock. They weaved into and around the trees at the bottom, Will just held on to her.
Elaine squealed as they tumbled over and landed in a pile of snow. She pulled him close to her and kissed him, a long embracing kiss which he happily returned. “Did you enjoy the ride, Will?” She asked him.
“Almost as much as that kiss,” he said.
“You were getting a boner, weren’t you?”
“I don’t know.” Will replied. “I was too busy trying to stay on that thing to think about anything else.”
“Trust me,” she said. “I know a boner when I feel one.”
“Well, I’m not surprised, when you’ve got the prettiest girl in the State of Maine on your lap…
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve heard that before.”
“I’m not surprised at that either,” he said.
They made at least ten more trips down the hill and each one ended with the two of them in a lover’s embrace kissing. Each time it grew more intense. Will knew he was going to go to bed with this girl at some point in the near future. He was incredulous at his good fortune. She just seemed to have fallen for him that quickly. There had to be something wrong with her, he told himself. Andy confirmed his suspicions on the ride back to the base.
“She’s a little nutty, Will,” he said. “Jeanie says that Elaine is ‘in love with love’, whatever the hell that means. Not trying to minimize your good looks and charm but Elaine falls in love very easy and gets very possessive after a while. I dicked her a couple of times, and it was well worth the trouble but Jeanie doesn’t know so don’t say anything. If I were you, I’d just ride her until she gets to be too much trouble and then dump her.”
“I don’t know if it’ll go that far or not,” Will said.
Oh, it’ll go that far,” Andy said. “Believe me Will, there is no way in hell you are going to get out of dicking Elaine Meador…unless you go AWOL tomorrow and don’t ever come back to Maine.”
“I didn’t mean to say I wanted to get out of it,” Will started to say as they all burst into laughter.
Will made three more flights with LH-12, two of which were ASW patrols and one of which was surface surveillance. Will spotted a boat on the water on the first mission and made his first actual report. “Object on surface, 9 o’clock.” Lieutenant Powell acknowledged and turned to check it out. The boat turned out to be a local fishing boat. The people on board waved at the plane and Will waved back at them. On the third mission, they tracked some Russian trawlers and took pictures of them. Andy Malik requested permission to throw the trash out of the aircraft onto the trawlers but was denied. Some crews had done that in the past but it was not a generally acceptable practice.
Shortly after New Year’s Day, 1961, Frank Harris showed up for work with alcohol on his breath and was written up by Chief Purcell and, after standing for a Captain’s Mast, was reduced in rate and kicked off crew.
Will Cain became the new electrician on the LH-12 crew. Sam, Andy, and Egg Money took him out drinking in celebration. Will got drunk for the first time since he’d been in high school.