My Memories of Johnston Island – 1946
by S. Leo Richardson
Fresh out of Book Camp June 1946 from San Diego we sailed to Pearl Harbor. We did not know where we would be assigned for duty. We were in a few days sent to Naval Air Station at Barber’s Point. From there were we assigned to Johnston Island.
We flew into JI on a DC 6 and when we approached the Island it looked like a large air craft carrier from several thousand feet up. Two of us were assigned to the beach crew where we were busy maintaining the ramp where the PBMs and PBYs were pulled from the water up onto the paved parking. We had to swim out to the planes when they taxied to the ramp and attach wheels to them. The wheels were buoyed with large pontoons so they would float. They were easily attached with the help of personnel of the flight crew. We took turns swimming out and driving the cat to pull the planes up the ramp. We actually made it lots of fun. After each launching then the crew members would loosen the pontoon wheels and with a line attached we secured them and pulled them back up onto the ramp and workshop. We had to take the wheel off the axels and refreeze the bearings every time because of the salt water.
After three months of that both of us were transferred to hanger duty where we worked twelve hours and off twenty four. While on duty two of took turns driving the gas trucks and the follow-me jeep. We met all incoming flights at the end of the runway with a large sign on the back of the jeep; Follow Me.”
During this time we were also assigned to the clean-up detail in emptying ammonization from the supply dumps on Sand Island. We worked a hard week at removing all ammonization and bombs, loaded them on an LST, took them away out to sea on the south side of the Island and rolled them down the open ramp of the LST into the deep blue sea.
During this time in the history of the Naval Air Station of Johnston Island young pilots had to keep their air time logged. When I was off duty I would look at the log and see when a pilot was scheduled for his air time I would put my name in to ride along. At the hanger we maintained a Texan which was equipped fully with bomb racks and a 30 caliber machine gun that fired through the timing the propeller. I have flown many hours in the T6, Texan, or as the Navy called it, SNJ. The pilots were young and did lots of maneuvers while getting in their air time. It was fun to fly with them, and to take over the controls when I was invited to do so. There was also a Navy Duck which I flew in several times, once in the rear cockpit and several times in the pontoon seat. What fun. We were young, adventurous, exciting and enjoying being on the clean-up detail of an Island follow WW2. An Air/Sea Rescue Squadron was assigned to Johnston and they flew the Privates, a four engine Navy bomber. It It is a plans like the B24, except a single tail rudder. It was still fully armed and I flew with them once when they went out to drop a life raft for some downed pilot. I had climbed into the tail gunner seat for excitement, and after a low sweep and dropping the life raft, the pilot immediately took a sharp climb. I scared the life out of me because the gravitational pull felt like I was being left behind.
One day while driving the follow-me jeep I drove from one end of the air strip to the other and found it to be 1.10 miles long. There was a B29 in some trouble and had to land there and we all wondered if he would make it, and then if he would have enough room for take off when that time came. We all fathered around, I helped with refueling, the crew stayed over night while some small problem was being corrected and we watched the take off the next morning. He made it, but he did not have much room left at the end of the runway.
Johnston Island was wonderful duty, easy and exciting. A few officers had their wives and children with them and I recall the Christmas of 1946 we made up a sailor for Santa Claus and flew him out without the kids knowing it, and then back when they were gathered to watch the SNJ deliver Santa Claus. What a day!