Hank Morris - 2007

          For some of us “gray beards” it’s still hard to believe that the Port of Hueneme is no longer graced by the presence of USS NORTON SOUND (AVM-1), a 540 foot long gray ship, but her decommissioning at Port Hueneme took place 20 years ago on 11 December 1986. Many NEMESITEs past and present, civilian and military sat on the afterdeck and listened to the dignitaries, including VADM William H. Rowden, USN, Commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command and RADM Wayne E. Meyer, USN (Ret), the first AEGIS Ship Building Program Manager, and RADM J.F. Shaw, USN, the AEGIS Shipbuilding Program Manager at the time. To me the addresses by the ship's first CO (January 1945 – September 1945), RADM Ben Scott Custer, USN (Ret) and her 31st CO (March 1984 – December 1986), CDR Eric Washam were the high points and they spanned 41 years of the ship’s active service. Both are now dead. The Decommissioning Ceremony was briefly recounted in the 2 January 1987 INTERFACE published by Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division, “PHD” as it is now called. The 14 November 1986 INTERFACE covered decommissioning plans and the 24 and 31 October 1986 issues covered removal of major equipments.

          Decommissioning brings with it some emotional experiences. Taps is sounded and The Colors are hauled down for the last time. A certain finality comes when both the ships name on the stern and her hull number on the bow are painted out. She was no longer the home to her crew and all of her sensitive equipments and documents were removed, much of it happening sometime prior to decommissioning. She remained in her normal berthing spot for a while. As EX NORTON SOUND she was eventually towed to the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at Bremerton WA to await her fate. On 26 January 1987 she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register at age 44.8 years. She was bought for salvage by a San Francisco-based Taiwanese firm for $1,740,000 and was towed to a ship breaker’s yard in Taiwan where things of value were salvaged and the remainder was cut up for scrap.

          At the time of the decommissioning, a significant number of PHD folks were not yet on the Command’s roles. A few members of the NEMESIS ALUMNI ASSOCIATION (NAA) served aboard her and later joined PHD (by whatever name it went by at the time …NSMSES, NSWSES, PHD, but many still refer to us as “NEMESIS” and that term is hereinafter used in lieu of the “alphabet soup”). I’m probably going to miss quite a few, but of current active NAA member Jim Kirkpatrick immediately comes to mind. A very few current longtime employees actually served aboard the “Snortin Norton” as she was known. As I recall, one was Charlie Feyh, then a GMMC, and another was Stephen McMahon, then a GMM-1.

          Most notably, the first NEMESIS civilian woman to serve as part of the AEGIS team aboard the ship was Karen Brower, currently Manager of the Logistics Directorate …and Karen’s in the countdown for retirement! The current NEMESIS Technical Operations Manager, Jim Vallas, is probably the ranking member of those previously involved with NORTON SOUND. A few others, including former Executive Director Charlie Giacchi, were involved in such as the MK 45 Light Weight Gun and the MK 86 Gun Fire Control System. More than a few from the era of BASIC POINT DEFENSE and NATO SEASPARROW, are still around, including Tim Rosemeyer. NEMESIS had involvement in many NORTON SOUND projects too numerous to mention, some of very short duration. Many former crew members and a few contractors became employees, most long retired, some still on the roles of the NAA.

          Clearly, the “first-hand” NEMESIS “corporate memory” of NORTON SOUND and her contributions to naval surface warfare is fast-fading, the only tangible reminders being the USS NORTON SOUND Display presented to the Command by the NAA. Dedicated on 6 July 06, it is located in the south side of Building 1387 adjacent to first deck conference rooms 1 and 2. An artifact of NORTON SOUND lives on as two rows of her actual teak deck planking surrounding the base. It was obtained from the Naval Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, DC. Incidentally, while working on the USS NORTON SOUND Display, a very young employee asked this writer when the ship first came to NEMESIS. It took a while to convince the person that the arrival of NORTON SOUND on 30 November 1948 was about 15 years before NEMESIS came into being on 1 July 1963! Another reminder of NORTON SOUND, not often seen by current and retired NEMESIS folks, is one of her massive anchors and her bell adjacent to the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum and Chamber of Commerce. That reminder was donated by the USS NORTON SOUND ASSOCIATION, the key “mover and shaker” being former CWO3 Robert Hovestadt.

          Regrettably, the USS NORTON SOUND ASSOCIATION no longer exists. The Association, founded in 1971 by former crew members living in the Ventura County area did not last long following the ship’s decommissioning and the death of a key member, Robert Hovestadt, an early military and later civilian employee at NEMESIS. Virtually all of the Association’s memorabilia were turned over to Matt Carrasco, webmaster of the NORTON SOUND unofficial website. Matt moved from Oxnard to Michigan and transferred his holdings to NAA. He still maintains the website at HTTP://USSNORTONSOUND.COM.

          This paper is not intended to be an exhaustive history of NORTON SOUND. Histories have been written by many, including Norman Polmar (USS NORTON SOUND: The Newest Old Ship) as published in the US Naval Institute Proceedings, April1979, plus material to be found on the unofficial NORTON SOUND website. For the historically-inclined, numerous entries are to be found by “googling” the Internet, or visiting the resources of the NEMESIS ALUMNI ASSOCIATION in Bldg 435 at Port Hueneme. This article is just a broad brush treatment to orient the “unoriented” …that is, the many folks who may have heard of the ship, maybe even remember seeing her berthed at the Port of Hueneme 20 years ago, and possibly worked aboard her, or in support of her, on her many projects related to NEMESIS.

          NORTON SOUND began life at the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, San Pedro CA, where she was launched and christened on 28 November 1943, with commissioning on 8 January 1945. As one of four USS CURRITUCK (AV-7) class Seaplane Tender with the hull number AV-11, she existed solely for the purpose of supporting the PBM “Mariner” flying boats. She served during the latter part of the Pacific Campaign and eventually returned to the United States during mid-1946.

          Her wartime exploits are a whole other story, but her selection and conversion as a dedicated missile test ship took from February to August 1948 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Can you picture something like that happening so quickly in this day and age? Other ships had been considered for the assignment, including an aircraft carrier and a “mothballed” ALASKA-class (CB-1) Battle Cruiser, but the selection of NORTON SOUND proved to be the most technically and economically feasible. She was relatively new from the hull and machinery standpoint, had a large afterdeck, a hanger, shops and room to expand, considering she would not need the space for her original large crew and embarked PBM folks. Her operational crewing demands were greatly-reduced from her wartime complement of 162 officers and 1,085 enlisted personnel. In fact, during AEGIS testing during 1979 her military complement was 19 officers and 350 enlisted personnel. Modifications included removal of the teak decking from the afterdeck and installation of a new deck forward for use by helicopters. Space does not permit a full treatment of the modifications.

          Early on, a decision had been made to launch the BUMPER-version of the German V-2 missile from NORTON SOUND. The BUMPER name derived from a second stage added atop the V-2. That stage was a modification of the US Army’s “WAC CORPORAL” liquid-fueled missile. About the same time the aircraft carrier USS MIDWAY (CV-41) had accommodated the launch of one regular V-2 under PROJECT SANDY, the purpose being to demonstrate pitched-over flight for greater range, something not within the safety limits of the Army’s White Sands Missile Range where V-2s were launched straight-up to keep the debris footprint within the facility; it didn’t always pan out that way. The most spectacular flight in the annals of WSMR occurred 29 May 1947, when a V-2 headed south after liftoff instead of north and landed, some five minutes later, a mile and a half south of Juarez, Mexico. Though no damage was done, the rocket narrowly missed an ammunition dump where Mexican mining companies stored powder and dynamite. A faulty gyroscope was reported as responsible for the missile's wayward flight that literally shook two nations. Probably a good reason to move such testing to sea!

          Launch equipment added to NORTON SOUND for BUMPER included an erector / launch tower and a service tower. Before it was ever used, there had been a number of land-launched BUMPER failures …White Sands and Cape Canaveral… and the program was scrapped. The V-2 equipment was to have been removed by the Long Beach Naval Shipyard following the ship’s arrival on the West Coast from Philadelphia on 22 November 1948, but it was deferred until a later yard period. NORTON SOUND’s CO at the time was CDR Thomas A. “Andy” Arhoon, the fifth CO (May 1948 – June 1949) of the ship, a most colorful individual. The NAA holds his personal papers.

          On the way from Philadelphia during October 1948, NORTON SOUND launched her first experiments; huge Skyhook balloons lofting instrumentation packages for cosmic research purposes in both the Caribbean and off the Southern California coast. She also launched three AEROJET “Aerobee” research rockets, one a failure. The Aerobee launch tower was in the vicinity of the V-2 launch equipment. During July 1949, she launched 17 Skyhook balloons with instrumentation packages from the geomagnetic equator about 1,500 miles south of Hawaii.

          NORTON SOUND initially arrived at Port Hueneme on 30 November 1948. On 25 January 1949 she received her first missile, an American version of the German V-1 “Buzz Bomb”. It was fired on 26 January 1949. The project was managed by what was then the Naval Air Missile Test Center at Point Mugu.

          During March 1949 launched a small rocket from a balloon, aptly named a “Rockoon”. On 11 May 1950 NORTON SOUND launched a five ton VIKING research rocket to an altitude of 106.4 miles.

          In the fall of 1950 Norton Sound underwent a four month overhaul at San Francisco Naval Shipyard. New handling, launching, stowage, and guidance systems were installed for operations involving the Terrier missile. She was reclassified AVM–1 on 8 August 1951. The first TERRIER launch was 7 September 1951, just a few months before this writer joined its designer/producer, then Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation …CONVAIR… in San Diego.

          A little-publicized project assigned to NORTON SOUND was the PROJECT ARGUS launch of three Lockheed X-17 missiles with low-yield nuclear warheads to altitudes of about 300 miles. This occurred in advance of the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty. The tests contributed to the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belt.

          Norton Sound was decommissioned on 10 August 1962 at Norfolk VA preparatory to receiving the TYPHON Weapon System. TYPHON eventually proved to be ahead of its time and was cancelled on 7 January 1964. During the TYPHON effort, the ship’s home port had been Baltimore MD. The ship was re-commissioned on 20 June 1964. In the wake of its cancellation, the Advanced Surface Missile System was authorized and was the precursor of what is now the AEGIS Weapon System. As recommended by VADM Eli T. Reich, founding father of NEMESIS, the ship’s homeport was established as Port Hueneme. Major considerations were the proximity of the Point Mugu complex presence of NEMESIS. Limited evaluation of the radar and computer system of TYPHON continued for a while, but the system was finally removed during a yard period at Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

          Again, this paper is not intended as a detailed history of NORTON SOUND, or NEMESIS involvement. Indeed, while homeported and deeply associated with the NEMESIS, her contributions were many. Notably a number of projects supported efforts at Point Mugu, as well as a number of other agencies, including the Naval Research Laboratory. The list is illustrative, but far from exhaustive and is in no particular order:



December 12, 2002

I don't remember anyone specifically on the Sound except in OE division, but reading all the reminiscences I see that several have remarked on the Missile which dropped off the mount and did it's thing all over the fantail. It's interesting how different the incident was depending on where guys were.  I was just a spectator, watching from the top of the Block house on top of the hangar. Being an ET, a civilian contractor with a large camera asked if I could help him out by getting a better way to hear the countdown which was being disturbed by the wind. I had just gotten a sound-powered phone and was passing the word to this guy as we stood in the crowd of sailors and civilians, when there was a cloud of smoke, and the missile dropped to the deck and started whirling around, wiping out lifelines and I think some waveguides.

Well, it was amazing - just like a breaking wave, that whole crowd poured over the foreword edge of the blockhouse down onto the deck about 10 feet below where various vehicles and boats were tied down with cables running all over the place - no one hesitated, and as far as I know, no one was hurt. You'd think jumping down that far onto a steel deck with all that stuff someone would have been! I noticed that I was no longer wearing the sound-powered phones although I had no recollection of taking them off As far as I know, they were still hanging in the air where I had been... Another cool thing. Several years later, working as a techrep for Xerox corp., I was telling this story to a bunch of other Xerox guys in our parts room in Baltimore, Maryland, and one of the guys said: "Yeah, that's true, I remember. I was also aboard Norton Sound at the time: I was in at my missile quarters station in that guntub on the port side of the fantail. You better believe I was trying to dig a hole in the bottom of the guntub with my fingernails!" - His name was Bill McGovern, an FT. Until then we had never realized we had been on the same ship at the same time. Thanks for the stories, guys, it was a great time. -

Erik Ohlson (called "Oly" at the time, tall redhead.)
ET3, 1959-1961

November 28, 2002

From: Albert F. Becker Jr.

Here is a story told to me by my father, Albert F. Becker, AM1C, who served aboard the Sound during her anchorage at Kerama Retto, 1945. He passed away May 28, 1988.

Many former crewmen have already spoken of Captain Ben Scott Custer's strictness and desire to run a tight, clean ship. It was clear he demanded that all crewmen wear the proper uniform of the day at all times. But there were times when some of the crewmen might have thought he could take his strictness too far.

Sometime in June, 1945, so my father told me, the starboard watch was up for its normal weekly personnel inspection, meaning clean whites and spit shined shoes. As Custer strode up and down the neat rows of sailors on the hangar deck, the PA system suddenly erupted with the alarm for general quarters. The men started to break for their stations, only to be brought up short by Custer's voice, cracking like a whip across the deck. "Hold your positions!" he ordered. Amazed, the men peered at each other, but then reassembled to permit Custer to finish his inspection. Then--and only then--did he release the crew to their stations.

It seems an incredible story, but my father insisted it really happened. And I don't think Custer was crazy, either; only affirming to the men his devotion to Navy tradition. By God, no one--not even the Japanese--was going to interrupt one of his inspections!

He also told me that once some Japanese prisoners were brought out in a whaleboat by some Marines who asked permission from Custer to keep them aboard until permanent facilities could be built for them ashore. Custer, however, refused. My father heard the captain tell the Marines, "You're not bringing those people aboard my ship. Take them somewhere and get rid of them."

Whether the Marines misunderstood the import of Custer's words or not, they then proceeded--so my father said--to take the Japanese prisoners behind one of the smaller Kerama islands where the crew heard the unmistakable sounds of machinegun fire. Moments later, the whaleboat returned with only the Marines aboard.

If any former crewmember witnessed the above incidents, or heard about them through crew "scuttlebutt," I would appreciate hearing from them concerning these incidents to either confirm or deny them. They can e-mail me

Thanx. Your website is just great!

Feburary 18, 2002

When I was transfered off of the USS TOPEKA CLG 8 in Long Beach to the Norton Sound I had no idea what an AVM was. I soon found out. It was the best duty that I served in the Navy. Capt. Lewis came aboard about the same time, and everybody on board were a little apprehensive of what the new skipper was like. It didn't take long to find out that Capt. Lewis liked to go fishing on weekends out in the Santa Barbara straits. We had fishing gear that would put comercial fishing boat to shame. We did a lot of trolling! It was a pretty expensive fishing boat. If we couldn't catch the fish on a hook we could fire a missle at them! On those weekend trips we would take the families out with us because we also had a BBQ while at sea. The dependants loved the whole thing. Everything was perfectly legal with the Navy because we scheduled a missle shoot for that day. Our people would set up chairs on the fantail for the guests to watch the shoot. When that missile launched there were a lot of wet seats when the smoke cleared! The guest's loved that shoot. Our fishing trips were the talk of the town.

Capt. Lewis also knew how to throw a picnic in the summer at one of the local parks. We never lacked for things to do while on board the Sound. We worked hard and played hard. I don't know of anybody that had a bad word to say about him. He was the best in my book.

Ray H. Bradbury SH-2
Feburary 08, 2002

After reading some of the letters here, I thought I would relate a story that happened on the Sound between July 1952 - July 1953 at Port Hueneme, when Captain C.L. Westhofen was in command of the ship.

He was a Mustang and the best Captain I ever served under. He made it known to the crew that the officers had everything they could want and he was going to make sure the crew got theirs.

He had the crew organize a basketball team and had picnics set up for the crews recreation and when we were out to sea, he had the Master At Arms break out shotguns from the armory and he had skeet shooting on the boat deck for anyone interested. He was a Sailors Captain.

Captain Westhofen was a brown bagger (but not married) like a lot of us at that time, and he liked to get on the beach as much as the rest of us.

I remember he had a great looking date aboard one day, whom he was taking to one of the basketball games.

To set the story in perspective: The ships routine at that time was operating on a daily basis of going to sea in the AM everyday, operating off San Clemente Island, where we would go to Missile Quarters and test fire the Larks and other types of Missiles. About 3:00 PM or so each day the Captain would cease Missile Quarters and head for port. This particular day the wind came up very strong and the tug that usually guided us into the dock could not tie up to the ship because of the strong winds. Captain Westhofen reluctantly announced over the PA system that the ship would have to remain at sea for the night because of the wind and tug problem, which was a disappointment to all. Like I said the Captain liked his liberty as much as we did. He came over the PA system less than a half hour after his first announcement and said we are going into port without the tug. To make this long story shorter we went steaming in to the dock and it looked like we were going to make it fine, until we all realized we were moving a little to fast, and without the tug the ship could not respond fast enough, and there was not enough time to backdown and slow the forward motion of the ship, and if I remember right, we took out 3 or 4 piling along the dock with very little damage to the ship other than paint removal. We all made liberty that day including the Captain. What A guy!

I always wondered how he explained that incident to his superiors?

The duty was great serving under Captain Westhofen.

C.V. (Bud) Norris,
Aboard March 1952 - August 1953.
DC-3 in R-Division
July 20, 2001

Here's a copy of the letter that was written by the Exec officer on 8/17/45. I've added a postscript which tells of the ship's travels after the war until it returned to the states. I left the ship in Norfolk to be discharged.

U.S.S. Norton Sound (AV-11)

c/o Fleet Post Office

San Francisco, California

17 August 1945

The Norton Sound is a seaplane tender that was put in commission on 8 January 1945. Prior to this date we had a fitting out period that included training at the Small Craft Training Center at San Pedro, California. Most of us went to school during this period brushing up on some of the work we would do at sea. A few of us were fortunate enough to work in the shipyard on our ship.

During this training period we had plenty of liberty. We had a basketball team that is still undefeated. We played a little softball and of course we had military ;drill and weekly inspections.

On the afternoon of 8 January we had our formal commissioning exercises. Captain Custer took command, and we all went to work loading our ship and becoming familiar with our jobs aboard ship.

Finally our ship was loaded and we were scheduled for our shakedown cruise. This was a tryout period. We actually went to sea and tested engines, steering, radio and radar equipment. Officers and men were checked out carefully in their specific and collateral duties. We received an excellent mark in gunnery and all other departments were given a "Well Done". In other words, we were ready.

At the completion of shakedown we were ordered to San Diego to pick up more supplies and additional gear. A short stay in San Diego, and with our decks cluttered with passengers (sailors and flyers) and fighter planes we set sail for Pearl harbor.

On the way to Pearl many of us acquired our sea legs by visiting the rail at regular intervals. Honolulu was beautiful but very crowded. We had liberty that expired early in the afternoon, but most of us had the opportunity to see the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which had been turned into a recreation center for Army and Navy personnel.

At Pearl we unloaded our fighter planes and set sail for Eniwetok, a small island in the Marshalls. On Eniwetok we picked up our first PBM squadron and operated with them almost three weeks. During these three weeks souvenir hunters had a field on Parry Island and Japtan Island. Of course, as usual the marines charged a small fee for all souvenirs. Liberty was pretty good, and we all had our two cans of beer and we gained valuable experience in handling seaplanes.

One outstanding piece of work was accomplished. A PBM was forced down at sea and we went out to sea to pick up the plane and the crew. To our knowledge a Mariner (PBM), which is 51,330 pounds and worth over $250,000, had never before been picked up in the open sea. We picked it up, damaging the bow turret slightly, but our maintenance shop was able to fix it.

We were at last working smoothly. The heat of the Marshall Islands was terrific, but all hands were getting used to it. We, however, were not destined to stay at Eniwetok. We again received orders to set sail for Guam in the Mariana's. At Guam we picked up more supplies and the very next day set sail for Saipan.

At Saipan we picked up our new Squadron, VPB-26, which was destined to make history in the siege of Okinawa. We tended Squadron 26 operating out of Saipan for a short while. Liberty was very meager, but we did manage to have a few beers, play one basketball game and a few softball games. We were just getting to know our way around Saipan when orders came, once again, to move forward. We arrived in Keramo Retto in April. The battle for Okinawa was at its height. Keramo Retto is a small ring of islands 20 miles southwest of Okinawa.

Our first day and night at Kerama was as quiet as any farm in Indiana, but on the second evening bedlam broke loose and continued to do so at intervals far too frequent for anyone’s health. We are all agreed that "11" is a lucky number. Our ship is AV-11 and we sat in the middle of Keramo Retto for three months and saw five suicide planes come in and hit other ships. We saw the Terror and the Pinckney absorb a kamikaze with many men and officers injured and killed. We saw the seaplane tenders Kenneth Whiting, St. George and the Curtiss take a kamikaze. The Curtiss was hit badly and many injured. The St. George was saved by her large crane. The plane hit the crane and this really saved the lives of many men. The password on the St. George is "Saved by the crane". The Kenneth Whiting really wasn’t hit. The plane was shot down, but it skimmed along the water sinking the small boats and tearing off the boom. Two men were injured while working on the boats at the boom, but no one was killed.

While at Keramo Retto, we went to battle stations 161 times, staying at them for a total of 163 hours and 30 minutes. We have credit for helping shoot down at least 4 planes. Our Squadron 26 did outstanding work both in submarine searches and in the bombing of enemy shipping. Though handicapped by spending time at our battle stations we were able to meet all our obligations to the squadron. The quotation "Keep ‘em Flying" was a reality with us.

We found an island without Japs and liberty was possible. Once about every thirty days we got ashore on the island and consumed two or three beers and returned to the ship. One ship sent a liberty party to the wrong island. The party was attacked by a band of Japs. We sent an armed landing party to the rescue and assisted in rescuing most of the party. There were about 15 men in all in the recreation party, some of whom swam to our planes; a Commander was killed and left on the beach; a sailor was shot and wounded and left on the beach. We landed, drove the Japs back into the hills, improvised a stretcher and rescued the wounded man. We picked up the dead Commander and returned to the ship. The wounded man died that evening. All hands were accounted for: 12 were back on their hip, 2 killed, and one injured and in our sick bay.

Squadron VPB-26 which was stationed aboard our ship and whose planes it was our job to maintain, had a very enviable record. They sank sixteen enemy ships, damaged thirty one, and destroyed two shipyards and two docks. They shot down one enemy plane and damaged at least two others. Three radio stations were destroyed and four survivors were rescued from waters very close to the Jap mainland.

We were also the Flagship for Commander Fleet Air Wing One. Admiral Price and his staff came aboard on our third day in the forward area. They left us for a short while when the Curtiss came to Keramo Retto but returned three weeks later after the Curtiss was hit by a suicide plane. Admiral Perry relieved Admiral Price as Commander of Fleet Air Wing One and continued to make his headquarters on our ship.

This is a story of how we operated until July 15th. On that date we left Keramo Retto and set sail for Okinawa. We anchored in Chimu Wan Bay (Kimmu Bay) on the east coast of Okinawa. We continued to be harassed by "bogies" but the Japs did not strike in Chimu Wan. They were giving their undivided attention to the ships in Buckner’s Bay.

We are all happy the war is over and are hoping to be home, as soon as possible, though it may be many months before we are returned to the states.

There is plenty of work out here and some of us will have to stay and see it through.

Best wishes to all our friends from the men of the U.S.S. NORTON SOUND.

Lieut. Comdr., USNR
Chief Censor

POSTSCRIPT: The NORTON SOUND remained at Okinawa until mid September 1945, then sailed to Sasebo Bay, Japan; where there was a large seaplane base. From there it went to Shanghai, Tsing Tao, China, Hong Kong, back to Okinawa, then to Tokyo where it stayed for about four months. It started its journey back to the states on 9 April 1946 visiting Kwajalein and Pearl Harbor, and then going through the Panama Canal and on to Norfolk, Virginia. It arrived in Norfolk on 22 May 1946.

A few other notes:

When we went to get the downed PBM I was the coxswain of the first boat over the side of the NS to bring food and water to the plane's crew. They were really seasick from wallowing in the sea for a day or more, and they didn't know if they wanted food or not. They were happy to get back aboard ship.

I was also coxswain of one of the boats that carried our armed crew to the Keramo Retto island to rescue the sailors of another ship. That was a sad incident. The islands were not secured and the Japs were always shooting at the crewmen on watch in the planes. Every once in a while the plane crew would open up on them with their 50 caliber machine guns.

One of the pictures in your website shows the NS in a harbor with hills in the background. To me that looks like Keramo Retto.

Kenneth R. Olson
COX3, 1944-1946
May 12, 2001


    Thirteen seaplane tenders operated the Kerama Refto seadrome during the baffle of Okinawa. Some arrived during the onset of "Operation Iceberg" and some came later, but each and every tender heroically earned at least one Battle Star for its effort. Of the thirteen tenders in the "AKA" anchorage, there were six of the large AV class, which could haul the planes aboard and seven small AVP class that tended the seaplanes afloat. The large tenders were prime targets for kamikaze planes during air-raids and fifty percent of those were actually smashed into by the kamikazes with a casualty list of 38 killed and 28 wounded.

Bering Strait (AVP-34)
Chandelour (AV-10)
Curtiss (AV-4)
Duxbury Bay (AVP-38)
Hamlin (AV-15)
Kenneth Whiting (AV-14)
Mackinac (AVP-13)
Norton Sound (AV-11)
Onslow (AVP-48)
Shelikof (AVP-52)
St. George (AV-16)
Suisun (AVP-53)
Yakutat (AVP-48

    A brief official history of each of these ships is recorded in the seven volumes of "The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships" and each individual article was written by crew members who were stationed aboard during the actual time intervals. In some cases, the writers had a sense of history and wrote about the exact times and dates of various happenings. Other writers jotted down bare essentials.

    A good example of the later is shown in the history of the tender, Duxbury Bay (AVP-38). "Duxbury Bay sailed from San Diego 12 March, 1945, called at Pearl Harbor, and tended planes at Eniwetok and Ulithi before arriving at Kerama Refto off Okinawa, 29 April”. That was it. She arrived at Kerama Refto four days after the Norton Sound anchored and yet no record of her deeds are shown. At the exact same time, the Duxbury Bay was anchored just a few hundred yards east of the Onslow (AVP-48), at the Kerama seadrome.

    The history of the Onslow reads in part, "Upon anchoring, the ship began to lay out a sea drome, and by the next day, was operating on a regular schedule with 60 Mariner seaplanes. Here the tenders work was more difficult than ever before. Many of the planes were damaged by the enemy or by heavy seas. Because of their frequency, it became necessary to ignore enemy air raids at times. On one occasion, she assisted splashing one Japanese fighter which was making a dive on her.”

    The Shelikof (AVP-52), was anchored just south and east of the Duxbury Bay and her writer had a sense of accuracy. "She sailed on March 25, 1945 for the invasion of the Ryuku Islands. The seaplane group moved into the anchorage at Kerama Retto five days later as Army units were still battling to secure those small rocky islands before the major assault on Okinawa Jima began. Shelikof laid eight seaplane mooring buoys that day and three of them were put to use the following day when the first PBM-5's arrived. The anchorage was under constant attack during the month of April, but the only casualties aboard her occurred on the 28th when friendly fire wounded two men. On May 6, the tender took an enemy plane under fire which approached within 1,000 yards, 50 feet off the water, but no damage was noted."

    The written history of the Norton Sound during that period is sketchy and in some cases, inaccurate. The Sound actually anchored 1025 on April 25 and not May I as recorded. During those missing six days, all hell broke loose at Karama Refto and the Sound was there and participated fully under the command of Captain Ben Scott Custer. The anchorage was under constant attack and other ships nearby took hits from the kamikazes. The Sound provided prompt medical aid and assistance in fire and rescue parties to those nearby stricken ships. Her historical record is silent about the hundreds of hours her medical and damage control crews spent assisting stricken ships and personnel. Anything that flew over, around or through the Kerama island group was greeted by thousands of rounds from the 20 and 40 mm guns from the ships at anchor. Day or night, tracers raced across the sky in all directions. When the kamikazes came in low at water level, just about every ship kept firing to fend them off and that is when "friendly fire" wounded men on neighboring ships, such as on the Shelikof. It was like having a circular firing squad with the kamikaze in the center. The gunners sights were on the intruder, not what lay beyond. Also, just about every evening, a Japanese reconnaissance plans would fly high overhead, which we dubbed "The milk run" and other non family names. The 5 inch guns would open up on it to no avail as it always stayed just out of range, but apparently took notes on what was anchored below.

    Nowhere in the records of any of these ships mention the day use of smoke screens. The 40 and 60 foot motor launches from about every ship, were fitted with special kerosene smoke generators which emitted clouds of dense gray smoke. The smoke boats would try to stay up-wind and the clouds of foul smelling smoke would soon cover the entire anchorage. The success of the smoke screen depended largely on wind conditions and with lots of wind, there was little effective smoke. Even with a good cover of smoke, the kamikazes would and could go through and smash into a target. The exterior of all the ships was soon covered with a grimy film of oil from the smoke. Lt. Comm. Ed Green was in charge of the smoke boats from the Sound and in my mind, I can still hear him yelling over the PA system, "Make smoke" and "The wind has changed, get up wind -- get up wind". It is funny now and it was funny then, what with the yelling and cussing from the boat crews and watching the screen blow away. In one instance, a kamikaze flew directly over the Sound with less than 100 feet distance between the superstructure and the plane itself. Capt. Custer was on the bridge, as it splashed down and its momentum carried it on to crash into the side of the Kenneth Whiting (AV-14). The men that were topside when that particular kamikaze flew over, swore that they could count the rivets on the underside of the plane. Some saw the pilot very clearly before he splashed.

    Some of our men received commendations for service above and beyond. All men aboard and not some, were shaken. The Sound, with guns blazing away, got an official assist on that particular suicide plane. We were elated that the plane did not come in lower in its destructive glide. All told, the Sound would be awarded three assists while at Kerama Retto and "official assists" were really hard to come by because everyone was in on the firing.

    Mid July found the planes from the Sound and the other seaplane tenders operating out of Chimu Bay, Okinawa. The daily raids and call to general quarters continued daily until August 8,1945, when the atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Nagasaki was 350 airline miles from our anchorage.

Robert E. Pywell
M1c, 1944-1945

May 11, 2001


    I believe we had an exceptional crew aboard the Norton Sound during the war years and one man that I particularly remember was a boatswain mate whom I'll simply call "Boats". Boats was, perhaps, one of the most laid back, easy going men on board. He was a Navy Regular who was shooting for thirty years. Nothing seemed to rattle the guy. As I recall, he was in charge of the crews that manned the cranes that hoisted the PBM Mariner planes aboard for servicing and repairs. Actually, it was no simple task because while the planes were dangling in mid-air, a small breeze could turn the planes so it actually took a lot of skill to keep them from banging into the side of the ship and damaging wings and other parts of the planes.

    The daily work routine on board was the same day after day and week after week. Recreational facilities were very limited. On occasion, liberty was granted over on the beach of Zamami Shima, the second largest island in the Kerama group. The long white sandy beach was an ideal place for recreation but the rest of the island was off limits because of the native population. The crews of the motor launches that took the liberty parties ashore were always on standby in case General Quarters sounded and a hasty departure was needed. Once on the beach, each man was allotted two cans of beverage, a choice of beer, soda, or a combination of each. The serious beer drinkers would converge on the non beer drinkers and swap or buy addition cans of beer. They would then happily party it up.

    The baseball players would go in one direction and the volleyball players would go in another direction. There were plenty of sand pits for the horseshoe players. Everyone had something to do. Many that did not play ball walked the beach gathering sea shells from an unlimited supply. Cats eye gems were also in abundance. These men would remove their shoes and socks, roll up their pant legs and wade in the crystal clear shallow water searching for shells. Shoes were tied together and hung around their neck and the socks were used as sacks to store their hoard of shells. The shells were later made into bracelets and necklaces and mailed home to loved ones. Upon returning to the ship, the group of shell gatherers would trot up the gangway barefooted with shoes dangling from their necks and a sock full of shells in each hand. They would put one sock of shells down next to their feet, salute the Officer of the Deck, salute the colors aft, pick up their sock of shells and continue on board. This routine was followed man after man. But, one day Boats went over on liberty and returned to the ship with his shoes tied around his neck and a full sock in each hand. He set one sock down, saluted the colors aft, saluted the Officer of the Deck and before he could step one foot on board, the Officer of the Deck stopped him cold. The Officer of the Deck that particular day was also Boats' Division Officer. The outline of his socks that he tried to bring on board were obviously bottles. Wine bottles. Two bottles of native wine. Needless to say, the OD lit into Boats and raked him up one side and down the other. When he finished yelling, and not wanting to put his own man on report, he turned his back and told Boats that he wanted to hear two splashes. In other words, toss the two bottles over the side. He would see nothing and that would be the end of it. Sure enough, one SPLASH was followed by another SPLASH. Boats disappeared down the nearest open hatch and the OD smiled and looked pleased because he defused an unpleasant incident..

    Later that night, five men were quietly seated on the deck of an unoccupied compartment deep down in the bowels of the ship. Each, with a sly grin, sipped from his coffee mug. Boats, deep in his own thoughts, asked, and to no one in particular -- do shoes float ?

Robert E. Pywell
M1c, 1944-1945

May 11, 2001

    I was there the day that the Norton Sound was set free. I was on the very hard working decommissioning crew in 1986. I was then an MMFN working in the machine rooms. I later made P.O. 2 and worked in A Gang on board the U.S.S. Tattnall out of Mayport, Fl. It was a sad to see her go. I was so young and the whole experience had made such an impact on me. My first memory was the first day that I arrived...October 31, 1985. I thought I was seeing things when the OOD was a woman!? No one told me there were women on board and lots of them. I stood along side my ship mates on the pier and watched as "Norton Sound" and " AVM -1" were painted over. I must say that I had a tear in my eye as I watched this occur. I said good -bye to her and so many close friends( you know the ones) that day... Never to see any of them again. Hope someone reads this. It was a memory I will never forget.

Chris Catalano
MMFN, 1986

May 10, 2001

    Wally was the nickname of a fellow shipmate whose last name was Walberg. As I recall, he was from the Scandinavian belt in the mid-west, Minnesota or that area. He was an acquaintance from my tour of duty of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where we were both stationed. When we transferred, several of us were assigned to the new yet-to-be commissioned sea plane tender, the USS Norton Sound.

    Wally and I were both metal smiths and were assigned to "A" Division of Engineering. He was a 1st class petty officer and I was a 2nd class petty officer and when he later transferred off the Norton Sound, I was promoted to 1st class. Aboard ship we called him Mr. Clean and that was long before a certain kitchen cleanser was marketed. He was the type of person that would stay absolutely clean no matter how dirty the job. Some men, whenever they got involved in a messy, greasy job, would wind up as dirty as the job itself. Not so with Wally. He would work along side of the other men and would always manage to keep just about spotless. There was always a wiping rag dangling from his back pocket when it was not in his hands. Actually, his personal life reflected his image. He did not smoke, drink, cuss, was a bit older than some of us, and not surprisingly, he was a church goer.

    Now, all of this goodness and cleanliness did not mean that he did not have any problems. Navy problems to be exact. Our Captain, Benjamin Scoff Custer, was an Annapolis graduate and was a stickler for Naval Regulations. He held Captains inspections every Saturday morning and it did not make any difference, because, rain or shine, Captain's inspections were high on his list of things to do. While in the States, dress whites or dress blues was the uniform of the day. While in the Pacific, blue denim shirts, dungarees, white hats and always, shined shoes were in order.

    Just before leaving San Diego, California, we had Captains inspection out on the sea plane deck on a bright Saturday morning. The Captain and his inspection party would walk between the rows of men and take notes of those who were not dressed according to regulations. While the inspection was being conducted, I stood at attention next to Wally. Just before the arrival of the inspection party, a sea gull flew overhead and dive bombed Wally's white hat. When the Captain arrived, it was " Yeoman take this man's name for he is wearing an unclean hat." As one can imagine, it was almost impossible to keep from laughing while this was taking place. After being dismissed, we gathered around Wally, pounded him on the back and kidded him no end. That was only the beginning.

    On another Saturday morning, while anchored at Kerama Refto, Wally hurried through the hanger to fall in for inspection. Unknown to him, he brushed against an aircraft engine that was being repaired and got a glob of grease on the shoulder of his shirt. When the Captain arrived, it was "Yeoman, take this man's name for he is wearing an unclean shirt." Of course, this followed by gales of laughter. But it did not stop there.

    Another Saturday morning while hurrying through the shop area on his way to inspection, Wally slipped and inadvertently kicked an iron cleat welded to the deck. The cleat not only wrecked a perfect shoeshine but also made a deep gash in the toe of his shoe. Once again when the Captain arrived, it was, " Yeoman, take this mans name for he is wearing un-shined shoes." Of course we were all killing ourselves laughing after inspection. Wally only shook his head. There was no cussing or anything else.

    Many men kept spotless uniforms in their lockers and wore them only for inspections. That would not have helped Wally and his instant problems but he decided to buy a new pair of shoes and wear them only at inspections. Having bought the new shoes and remembering about slick leather soles slipping on the steel deck, Wally had the ships cobbler sew thick rubber soles over the new leather soles. But, the new rubber soles caused the toes of shoes to turn up. Way up. The new shoes just looked " funny ". On another Saturday morning and another Captain's inspection, we were standing at attention and when the Captain arrived, it was again, " Yeoman, take this mans name for he is wearing older shoes." More laughter. Much more laughter. I told Wally that at the next inspection he was going to be hit by lightning and that he was going to be put on report for having singed and smoking hair.

    Wally was not a klutz. He was not accident prone. He did not work in an unsafe manner causing harm to himself or others. Wally was Wally. I have no idea where he is these days, but I'll bet when his thoughts wander back to the good old days, he is still grumbling about Captain's inspections and all the extra duty that went with them.

Robert E. Pywell

M1c, 1944-1945

May 01, 2001

    There was a lot of good times aboard N.S.....but there was also some bad ones that people do not want to when Capt. Loftus went on his Col. Potlatsch sea exercises and FN Mc Bride went overboard, during the night and we did not find out until approx. 4-8 hours later. Some of the women despised her because she came from a farm and was more masculine than feminine. They became vicious and made up a song about her. "Ole McBride went over the side to fetch a pail of water, she went gulp and never came up, ...bla...bla..bla. That was not only vicious but inhumane. There was also the case of the missing IC2, that had his coat found on the stdd. quarterdeck area while underway with blood on it and they never did find him or see him again. Then there was the magic mountain "film crew" up stairs in magic mountain that liked to watch porno flicks while they were on duty at night and several times they were broadcasting over the air waves from the N.S. channel site. Local residents called in and some thanked for the free show while others protested about it.

Rick Felty
SMC, 1979-1981

April 24, 2001

    Hello, this is Charlie McBride. I was a MML/3 on the USS Curtiss during WW II. I was transferred to the Norton sound in Tokyo Bay on 4-8-46 to work my way back for discharge. Stood engine room watches etc. We didn't get off in California but went through the Panama canal and up to Norfolk. There was a yeoman from he Curtiss in our group so on the way some of us got to look at our service jacket, never had seen one before. A few days after we got to Norfolk the list came out for those of us to leave for separation. I WASN'T ON IT. I went to see the Chief Engineer to find out why and he and I went to check and find out. My records were NOT there and he asked me where I came from so I told him the Curtiss and that I had seen my records in that office while underway and had been standing watches the whole trip. He said that they would get a new set of records in about a week from Washington. Well 3-4-5 weeks passed and no records, so I saw him again and said that the ship was about ready to go back to sea and that I had no intention of being on it , what should we do? He asked me where I was from and I told him El Paso, TX. He asked me how my Mom and Dad were and I said fine, why? He said no, your dad is very sick and you should go to see him! Sounded good to me and I got a 20 day leave and reported back to Camp Wallace near Houston, got my records and finally got out June 20th. Long story, happy ending and happy ever since. Oh , bye the way, Great web site, many kudos for your work.

Charlie McBride
MML3, 1946

April 28, 2001

    I Had been assigned to the deck dept. for my initial tour aboard AVM-1. Mary La Roche was a BM2 then ( I later encountered her as BMCM(SW) ) I had joined the Navy for the simple reason of "to see the world". And being a 4th generation Californian my assignment to the Norton Sound was to say the least a great disappointment. Merely for the fact that they essentially were a non-deploying unit. However, comma, It was indeed a special ship for me on which I learned many lesson's. :About team work, equal opportunity, human worth, empathy, compassion and dignity. While I was aboard the ship I was disciplined several times via non-judicial punishment. And after having been transferred to the engineering dept. "B" div.. I was summoned to see Chief "Arial" Engineer Glen E. Miller i.e.. "CHENG", this was after several bouts of civil disobedience on my part and my transgressions against the UCMJ. At the time Arial">the "CHENG" had some massive arms about the size of my then puny "FN" legs (my arms are now bigger). I was standing tall in front of then Lt. Miller, in one of those cool breezy, port hole ventilated office's such as his on the stbd. side. He was at his desk shuffling some papers. He saw me as I stood before him. H was wearing some of the old "Clark KENT" issue spectacles, " he said do you know why your here?", (and what he meant was as in still aboard ship and not thrown out of the Navy, ) and admit it we saw many come and go on AVM-1. I replied "no Sir". And he replied; " I told the Capt. (CROOKS) you were a good engineer and worthy of one last chance". And with that said............. I've done my best to this day to never let the "CHENG" down.

FORMER SN/FN 82-84 AVM-1.>
April 4, 2001

    I was assigned to AVM-1 about 9/52 to await discharge as I never had time enough left on enlistment to go back to Korea for the 3rd. cruise with USS Bataan CVL-29. There was another CVL-29 man aboard, a Quartermaster 1c by the name of FULLER. My assignment was the guidance eqpt for the "Lark" and "Terrier" missiles and the "radio controll eqpt for the F6F Target Drones. We were also firing the "Regulus 1" during this time. {was not involved with it}. My underway duties when not involved with the Lark or Terrier were in Radio 2 Transmitter room. There was another ET-2 named "WALKER" an ex farm boy from Southern Illinois. This ship was the closest thing to "Floating Shore Duty" that I ever heard of, but we managed to rock her off of the coffee-grounds about once a month and get underway for missile ops.   Spent many evenings and Saturdays in the good old "SILVER DOLLAR"!!! Left the ship about 20 Mar 53 for discharge at Des. Base San Diego.   Later that year ended up in Seattle/Alaska as a Merchant Seaman, then 12/53 enlisted in USMC. If your lucky enough to be IRISH...
Your lucky enough!!!

Bob French
ET2, 1952-1953

March 6, 2001

    Regards to FREEMAN, MUELLAR. Read my last email to this site. I have always wanted to find out if I imagined or dreamed about that missile tearing up the lifelines, but, I thought it was the PORT side. I remember saying WTFO! and making tracks to the very point of the bow. Not knowing if it was armed or not, I went as far as my phone line would take me!! Allot of people I have talked to regarding exciting events during my enlistment did not believe me about this event. Thanks...Now they can read about it, and, it is now. "This ain't no S**T" instead of "Once upon a time..." sea story

    Since this was my first duty station out of boot camp and the CMAA has written to this site, perhaps he will remember me. I was, not too late, reporting for duty. Due to a mix up of my sea bag being shipped elsewhere ( I caught up with it in LA) HOWEVER, now I can tell you the real story... I was 17, wearing my Navy Blues, with my cover made into a rocker by my brothers (Navy family) and looking sharp. I met a girl on the way to the ship, with enough time to do same. She lived in Marshalltown, IOWA and I was coming from CHICAGO. She asked and, I stayed with her four days. Before we realized it, it was going to be a close call meeting the ETA to OXNARD. I made it to LA with a little time to spare, but, missed the bus I should have caught. So I shaved, got a haircut and made myself ready and presentable, after that ride from IOWA.  I caught the next bus to OXNARD, and sat next to this beautiful girl going there too. I remember her telling me about the Quonset (sp) huts near the fence, their schools. She was about to graduate. After awhile, we began talking, she finally divulged that her dad was a chief on a ship located out of PORT H.. I told her I was going to be stationed on my first ship, out of the same place, the USS NORTON SOUND (AVM1). She gave me her number, and, I said to give me a call sometime, because I did not know what I was going to do, I was fresh out of boot camp. I was supposed to go to RM School at T.I. But, someone screwed up. Well...I arrived, reported as ordered...but, a tad late. The captain understood (of course I did not tell him about my layover in IOWA ) but, could not let it go unpunished, seeing as I was new to the Navy and should always be punctual, and, would serve as a lesson in my career. Captains mast gave me bildge cleanup duty (extra duty, they called it) yuk!!

    Well, a few weeks later we had that family cruise and lo and behold who should come on board... right, that girl.. her dad was a CHIEF, forgot who, but, if it was you CMAA... nothing happened. I'll have you know, I went to school, and was AMPHIB to the end. Did tours on Riverine Forces VN. PCF/LST/APA/AKA CUBA, LAOS, VIETNAM and went around the world several times. Got out as an RM1. Now, I am on a quest to meet/hear from old shipmates and will always remember those times in the NAVY. The SNORTIN' NORTON being my first, as in love, I will remember her.

Manuel Peña

February 21, 2001

    Here are a few stories from the late 1968 through early 1970 period when I was on the Norton Sound. I figure the statute of limitations has run out for some of the things following...

Trashed Port Hueneme channel and pier:

    We were returning from a typical "one day" cruise with the usual pressure for everybody to get home by dinnertime (tough duty, eh?). It was very windy. However, unlike other times when we stayed out to avoid problems due to the Sound's large "sail area", Captain Reichwein and the port pilot thought they could bring it in. Not hardly. We got crooked in the channel and I could look down from the fantail onto land with fishermen trying to pull their dingys out of the water before they got crushed. Next, the ship hit a navigation aid that was a bundle of telephone poles wrapped in steel cables with a flashing light on top. All this got caught up in the right screw and we could watch the "whoosh, whoosh, whoosh" with each turn of the screw flipping the now hung up cables and poles in an out of the water. About that time the Captain took over from the port pilot. I wasn't on the bridge, but folks told me the Captain was just a tad upset with the port pilot. Once in the harbor, all three available tugboats hooked on and couldn't hold us against the wind.. The ship hit the pier hard enough to break about half the pilings. It gets worse. The right screw was damaged requiring a trip to dry dock in Long Beach for a new screw. In dry dock, a couple of us walked UNDER the ship. A weird feeling. It sure looked BIG from that vantage point.

Wrong part number:

    One day, three flatbed trucks pulled up with truly giant machine nuts. Probably eight foot diameter and perhaps the type used to hold on ship's screws. Two trucks had two nuts each (that's all that would fit) and the third had the fifth nut. Turns out somebody had mixed up a part number.

Almost shot ourselves:

    For a dog and pony show for an Admiral, the plan was to fire four sea sparrow missiles. But the ship's stock of new missiles was low. So the missile boys put together four missiles from spare parts (sections of the missiles called "missile rings"). The first one launched and quickly turned straight down into the sea - splash. The second one had the metal frame for the frangible door (breakaway door on the launcher that the missile was just supposed to punch through) hang up on the fins. The missile corkscrewed leaving a pretty interesting looking smoke trail. The third launched and was controlled normally. They should have quit there. The fourth lost control, made a big turn, and headed back toward the ship. It came awfully close to hitting the ship and was really moving. It missed. Whew.

Shot down a Point Mugu drone:

    In some Sea Sparrow tests, a missile made a direct hit on one of those orange jet drones (expensive) from Point Mugu. We saw a big orange ball, and quite awhile later due to the distance heard a muffled "pop" sound. Of course, control was supposed to be set up to avoid actually hitting the drones. I heard that Point Mugu folks were none too happy about that.

Shot the TACAN antenna:

    During some shooting of 45 semiautomatic pistols and a Thompson automatic off the fantail, someone was careless and shot the TACAN antenna. Expensive repair.

Pushing the buttons on the toughest officer:

    We had a warrant officer Mr. Ahern. He was so Navy that he didn't think enlisted men should be allowed to have wives. "They weren't issued, were they?" Folks seemed to fear him and dreaded standing watch with him. (A couple of us figured out that was the safest place to be since you would then never have to face him when leaving the ship. We would actually trade watches to stand with him which baffled everyone.) He was especially vigilant about having no civilian clothes on board the ship. One day in Long Beach, my partner in crime Bob Havrda had an idea. We went to leave the ship for liberty and Bob was carrying a suitcase. Of course, Mr. Ahern challenged that and wanted to see inside suspecting it contained civilian clothes. Bob, a second class petty officer, said it was empty, refused to open it, and said he should be trusted as a petty officer. But Mr. Ahern insisted (we knew he would). When the suitcase was opened, all it had was a big sign saying "I told you it was empty". Mr. Ahern exploded in a way that might have a record even for him. He sent Bob back into the ship to get to OI division commander. Through all this, Bob acted indignant that he wasn't trusted. Since I was just an "innocent" bystander I was allowed to leave. I watched Mr. Ahern grip the railing till his knuckles were white. I think he must have left impressions in the steel. In all fairness, Warrant Officer Ahern was a pretty good guy behind the tough façade. And I would have been willing to go into war by his side.

Riding a bicycle in the passageway:

    One of our ET group, Ken Frank, stored his bicycle in a storage room we had near the IC electricians tool locker area. This was our room but in the very tough Warrant Officer Mr. Ahern's area. One day at sea Ken decided to figure out what it would be like riding his bike up and down the passageway. If you're wondering, it was actually difficult with the ship rocking a bit and your brain dealing with visual clues competing with actual position. It got even more difficult when he almost ran over Mr. Ahern who appeared from nowhere. This didn't seem very "Navy" to Mr. Ahern and he gave Ken a good dressing down over it. I'd like to think that, out of site of the troops, Mr. Ahern could chuckle over such things.

Showing Ken the ropes:

    Speaking of Ken. He was a really nice guy. When he turned twenty-one, some of us "seasoned" socialites said we would introduce him to one of Oxnard's finest night spots, the "Tournament Room" at the bowling alley. They had a good band with someone playing a harmonica in it from time to time. We didn't know it, but Ken played the harmonica like a pro. He struck up a conversation with the band during a break and they asked him to join. They played "Tobacco Road" and Ken was great. And the women sure noticed Ken. We "experienced" folks could only sit there like idiots with our mouths hanging open.

The ship's "Chaplain":

    Of course, the Sound did not have a Chaplain. But it did in a past life and still had a "Chaplain's Locker". It was just outside the ET shop and we had a key that had probably laid around since WWII in the Chief's desk. One day, we opened the locker and it still had hymnals, other paraphernalia, and some odd size records of church music (larger than LP's). Also, I remembered there was a place for "Chaplain" on the card where arriving folks got sign in's with various functions (get bedding, etc.) and sign out's when they eventually left (to make sure everything turned back in and such). This gave me an idea. I decided to appoint myself the chaplain for sign-in purposes. Now I was a ETN2 enlisted, but I felt I could fake it. Others went along with the joke and would send new folks to me, including even 1st class petty officers and Chiefs. They were confused at first seeing me working on electronics equipment, but I said this was a new program for small duty stations where the Chaplain also had another rate. I assured them I was ordained and said things like "see me if you have any problem or I can give you any help - my son" and signed their card. A day or two later, they would show up griping they had been had.

Flaky ship's TV:

    I probably shouldn't admit this. But one day the ship was at sea on a big football game day. The ship had a regular TV antenna and its signal went to the ET shop where distribution amplifiers sent the signal to all of the ship's TV's. During the game at a few key moments, like the quarterback's arm cocked ready to pass, we "pulled the plug". When folks showed up suspicious, we played dumb. When folks starting showing up really, really fast, we decided it was time to quit our little game.

Picture of naked woman:

    I wrote the column for the OI division in the ship's newspaper for awhile. One month I asked "has anyone seen the life-size photo of a naked woman posted prominently in the ship?" Of course, there was no photo, but folks sure spent a lot of time looking for it.


    You've probably all seen how rumors spread. So we sometimes primed the pump. One rumor we started that got to the other end of the ship faster than you could run was "we saw a message where the ship is being relocated to Bremerton, Washington". Since we were in the OI division, we had credibility. That rumor may have caused a little too much panic in some folks.

Not bending our feet:

    We had annoying personnel inspections on the pier occasionally which seemed to be the XO's show. Some folks in our group OI division) got criticized because of the creases in the tops of their dress shoes (normal creases by the way because your feet and shoes do bend!). So, for the next inspections, we had those carefully polish the shoes to hide the creases and then CARRIED them to the pier and stood them in place. The XO was watching all of this and asked what the heck we were doing when he inspected. We referred to his previous complaints and, acting rather indignant, told him that is the only solution we could think of because human feet bend. He knew we were pushing his buttons, but really didn't have any logical argument to use against us. Our logic was fine.

The ET shop redecorating:

    The ET shop was looking run down with its worn dark green linoleum and grungy file cabinets and such. So we took the initiative for a little remodeling one weekend under the theory that "it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission". We scrounged enough black and white floor tiles to make a checkerboard floor. We repainted the chief's desk in several colors. And the file cabinets got a treatment of light gray but the label holders had black frames with pink in the middle (we never had any labels in them). Chief Holtz, on Monday morning, said it looked like a whore house, but didn't ask us to change it.

Fighting with oranges:

    One day the mess was giving away a lot of oranges for some reason. So we got a whole bunch. We had a good natured fight in the ET shop throwing these things at each other. We figured that if you threw high, the orange would hit a steel overhead beam and explode showering your opponent. And boy, did those oranges explode! It sure was fun. The cleanup wasn't.

Sneaking food from officer's country:

    When standing watches late at night, a couple of us got the idea that we make midnight snacks in the ward room kitchen if we were quiet. The kitchen was locked (as if that would stop us) but the ward room wasn't. You could crawl through the serving opening into the kitchen. We would carefully make sandwiches and such being careful to leave no evidence behind. We never took too much. Besides, if ward room staff saw quantities dwindle, they would probably assume an officer made a midnight snack. A couple of us did that for a year and never got caught, so we must have been good at it. They had some pretty good food in there and didn't seem to run out of milk like on the regular mess deck.

Watching Dolphins:

    One evening at sea, a couple of us went to the ship's bow to watch dolphins (or porpoises) that were swimming along playing with the ship. To get a better look, we lay prone on the deck with our heads sticking out the oval openings for mooring lines so we could look straight down at the water. It didn't take long for the ship's external loud speakers to say "get the hell out of there". We scampered before we could be identified.

By Charles E. Kinzer
ETN2, 1968-1970

January, 12, 2001

    I was the CMAA before and after women came aboard. Chances are some of you will remember me with a smile and some with daggers coming out of your eyes. I busted more dopers on board than anyone, 2-3 a night every time I had duty. There was some good times aboard. We went to Hawaii and to Mazatalan and Vancouver island with our operation " Col. Potlatch". I designed the flag "Snort'n Norton" with the bull blowing smoke out of his nostrils, thus dubbing it s name that has stuck to this day. I was the one that tiled the pilot house deck with green tile and brown cutouts of a sextant and other nautical items. I also was the one that was instrumental in taking a dead space and turning it into a Library for the crew with new table tops and tiled it and made it a nice place to go. It was across from the MAA Shack. I remember a lot of people and wonder what happened to them. Like BM1 Dewey, BM3 Alan, Doc Thoms, Bubba Jordan and his cigar, ET2 O'Brien married Brad Ingoe before she did a tour in Scotland. Becky Burrows married DS1 O'brien, they went to Florida and she converted from a YN to a RP. Last known to be a Chief either Senior or Master Chief. There were too many good people to remember all the names. But the bad ones gave you a lasting impression. like the Danny Egowitz's and the SN Broccolli's. Capt. Seebirt would award 3 days Piss and Punk and he and others would run down below decks and shoot up with amphetamines to withdraw their appetite during the brig. But the base hospital would bring them back down before depositing them in the Brig. SN Conzemius, would fill the compartment with the perfume she would wear! And some SN named Nancy followed BM3 Allen around like a puppy dog. BM1 Dewey and I were so much alike and like brothers, they would call him Felty and me Dewey. I remember the first class mess. It was a good tour of duty but I am retired now, but when I did a tour of duty in Seattle afterwards the stigma of the "Norton Sound 8" seemed to have caught up with me a year later and I told the NIS agents that thought they were going to "re-open it as they so stated that I did not know what they were talking about. So Fair winds and following seas to you all out there in Navy memories land.!!!

[Ret} Felty


January, 03, 2001

    I just wanted to write these lines to express my sorrow, over Erby Whitakers passing. I had a great e-mail conversation with him, just before he died. Erby was the sort of MAN that I could have called him "My Brother" any day of the year... not just for talking with him, but for many parallels that we experienced, between brothers. My heart-felt sorrows to his family, and in particular, to his brother, whose experiences that I can relate to. I had a brother, Oscar, who was KIA during the war (Vella La Vella, 10-07-44) who flew PBY's for the US Marines. How ironic that I should have had a tour of duty (many years later) on the ship that might have affected his life, had he lived. To my friend Roy Whitaker, remember the good things that your brother represented, because they are the most important memories that you will ever have. I wish that I could have met Erby, because I know that he would have changed my life. I wish that Roy could have met my brother because I know that he would have changed his life. The "Erbys" and the "Oscars" are the real "Changers" of our country, and our society. They are truly the fabric that holds people together... in good times, and bad. My special thanks to Roy Whitaker, for his tribute to his brother. He hit me in a very tender spot. I will always remember Erby Whitaker... My Best Wishes to All My Shipmates, and their families,

Ernie Mueller
MT3, 1959-1962

November 22, 2000

Dear Shipmates Of Erby,

    My name is Matt Mayo, I am Erby Whitaker's stepson. It is with great regret that I must inform you of his death. Erby went to sleep last night and just forgot to wake up. I had the joy of spending the last two days with him and he spoke so fondly of all of you and the defunct reunion. The reunion added life and meaning to our Erby. For that my mother and family thank you. Please keep my mother and family in your prayers for we shall need them to cope with this great loss in our life.
Again thank you for the life you added to his life. God Bless You.

October 26, 2000

    Just a note to let everyone know who the Hanger Watch was, on that fateful day the sustainer took off, and left the booster remaining on the launcher... it was me. The launcher was pointing directly amidships, when I heard the squibs ignite... two seconds later, the launcher swung to starboard. At that moment, I screamed over the headset, that the "Missile
was afire, on the fantail!"... I no sooner said fantail, when she blew her guts out, and took the entire starboard lifeline with her... about forty swabs were on the fantail when this happened, and all of them hit me as they climbed over my body, which was still attached to the
headset... a few moments later, I realized that I was nearly unconscious, and made my way forward.

    I could see the "Old Man" on the bridge, and read his lips as he said "Who's that without his shirt on?"... pointing at me... apparently he hadn't noticed the blood down my front, and that the shirt was torn off me, when everyone ran over me...

    We can all thank our lucky stars, that the booster didn't blow up, as we had a full mag... directly below... all that would have been left of the ship would have been a big hole in the water, with no place to run!

Ernie Mueller MT-3
USS Norton Sound AVM-1, 1959 to 1962

September 20, 2000

    One day, in 1959, while conducting tests with the "Terrier" missile system, we had an accident. The Missile men had just hand loaded (with a fork lift) a Terrier, and were walking back to the hangar bay when an apparent short occurred. The sustainer (second stage) lit off and separated from the booster, which remained on the launcher. The missile jumped all over the fantail, tearing up the lifelines, and finally dove overboard.

    Now it became a unguided torpedo, and twice struck the Sound beneath the water line. As luck would have it, the shot was for telemetering purposes and there was no warhead aboard. Still we went to GQ, and everyone was up tight. The fantail watch was nowhere to be found. We feared he had been hit or went overboard. He was found a little later, wisely taking shelter in a closet off the hangar bay, still wearing the sound-powered phones. Just one of a thousand stories of the "Snorten Norten". Hopefully someone involved can fill in any blanks or mistakes, but that is how I remember it.

Howard Freeman
FN, 1958-1960

August 30, 2000

    I've been to a lot of Navy sites but only this one brings back the flood of memories
of my three years service on a good ship. Thanks for bringing her back for all of
us to remember.

David L. Bentz
FTM1-USN (Retired), 1967-1970

September 10, 2000

    Ben Scott Custer was a 3 stripe Commander when the ship was commissioned, but he received his 4th stripe two or three months later.

    He was a good skipper. We went to sea a couple of times as we couldn't keep our anchorage when typhoons threatened our area. He and Cmdr. Bell house, our executive officer, and several other officers and men stayed on the bridge from start to finish--and these were tough times but they got us through it.

    During the times that we went to sea during a typhoon, our expansion belt on the main deck mid-ship slid apart and opened the widest that I ever saw it. The people who engineered and built our ship did right by us because our ship maintained headway and saved our butts.

    I came to the Norton Sound on 9-14-44 as part of the pre-commissioning
detail, from duty on the USS Long Island. The Navy kept us busy on all sorts
of training duties from that date until we went aboard on Jan 8, 1945.

    We went aboard the sea plane tender Cumberland Sound (AV-11) from 9-20-44
until 10-4-44, for a training cruise.

    We went to gunnery school at Imperial Beach near San Diego in October or
November of 1944.

    Our Aero logical Officer was Lt. jg Buckley, Chief Petty Officer T.B. O'Reily, First Class Robert Thill, Third Class Russell Teal, third class Ronald Bambeck and a striker Farnum.

    We pretty much had this same group of aerographer's until we were at Kerama
Retto from April 20 to July 25, 1945 when we took the Flag aboard as the sea plane tender Curtiss got hit by a kamikaze and the Flag (FAW-1) brought us 1 officer, Lt. Sheldon and a 2/c aerographer named Saul Biletsky and 3 third class named McGaw, Kenyon and Parker. They stayed with us until the end of the war.

    We had 3 seaplane tenders hit by kamikazes: Curtiss, St. George and Kenneth Whiting. The Kenneth Whiting got hit at the rear PBM crane so it was not completely put our of action.

    During this time we operated other PBM's as we were a temporary home for some of the other units who were put our of action.

    The PBM's in Kerama Retto were among the first aircraft to us JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off). Units about the size of large fire extinguishers were bolted to each side of the frame of the plane and when the plane got to a certain speed the JATO kicked in and upped the plane's speed rapidly to assist in our take offs.

    Another first for the planes of the Norton Sound is that we tracked typhoons. Weather information was from lean to none from the areas where the typhoons originated and developed into major storms.

    We had our PBM's--with aerographers aboard--tracking these storms and then bringing the data back to our ship and including it on our weather maps. The reliable PBM's got us there, did the job and got us back.

    All of my thoughts, way back when I had my duty on the Norton Sound are good thoughts.

Yours truly,

Raymond Kilz
AEM2, 1944-1945

August 02, 2000


    After a recent tour of the USS Vicksburg (CG 69) here in Boston as part of the Tall Ships 2000 I began to think about the AEGIS system that I had worked on at Raytheon in the early 70's. It just occurred to me to look for the Norton Sound on the web and today found your site.

    I was lucky enough to cover for one of the Raytheon engineering crew during his vacation and was an engineering "ship rider" for a two week session on the first AEGIS test cruise on the Norton Sound (1974?).

    As a result I now have several good color photos of that cruse. One shows the Aegis operators console room during a period of inactivity. Several are general photos of the ship and one shows a daylight launch of an SMT-1 missile from the dual rail missile launcher (I had taken up a spot on top of the hangar bay and instinctively shaped it on the bang (big BANG) of the launch. Another shows the engineering crew working around the launcher with a dummy missile loaded.

    I am very busy now with work and home tasks but if you would like copies of these photos I will dig them out (possibly get enlargements) and make them available.


Jim Marcuson

May 07, 2000

    I reported to AVM-1 in May 1960 as my first officer duty after completing the NESEP program at Purdue. I was an Ensign LDO, & I was assigned as FC Officer & later, as Missile Launching Officer. I had joined the USN in June 1949 & achieved the rate of FTC while in the NESEP program. I left AVM-1 in October 1961 for new construction of USS Bainbridge (DLGN 25) at Quincy. I later "converted" to URL & achieved the rank of Captain before retiring in June 1983 from an assignment as Chief Engineer of ???

    If you know of anyone from my era, then please let me know. I reported under Ben Sarver & served under Emmett Bonner & Mugg. I got my first OOD(I) qualification on AVM-1 from Capt Bonner. I was Honor Guard Officer for the ceremony of Capt Bonner relieving Capt Sarver. Some of the names I can remember from that time are:

CDR Wooten - Ops Officer.
LCDR Strockbine - Ops Dept. (an aviator who controlled all our targets).
LT Kennedy - Missile TM officer.
LT Sheppy - Missile Launching Officer.
LT Hendricks - before me.
LT Jackson - Also before me/my orders to AVM-1 stated that I was relieving him.
LT Dean Roberts - Weapons Dept. (the "expert" from China Lake).
CDR Odell - Ass't. Weapons Officer.
ENS Coulapides - Navigator (a real "seaman" - retired sometime in the 80's
                            with over 40 years in the Navy, had been a BM1)
ENS Schultz - 1st Lt.
"Gunner" Clark - Later promoted to LT & became the FC Officer.
Ted Lindstrom - Was an Ensign, but got "upped" to LT.
CDR Erdner - Was XO under Mugg, but took command of the ship to take it to Philly.
CDR Stephens - Weapons Officer, relieved by CDR Lewis.
ENS Adams - Missile Officer.

Lots of others, but it was a long time ago! I can remember the Norton Sound so well because she was such a part of my life for so long. I visited her many times later in my career & I went to her decommissioning ceremony (RAdm Wayne E. Meyer made the remarks at that ceremony with tears in his eyes). Let me know if I can offer more info.

Regards, Joe Harrison.
CAPT, 1960-1961

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