Ken Beaton: Ridin’ the radio waves
1919 was a great year! Everette Furr was born and took his place with the Greatest Generation. At 10 years, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. After surviving 12 years of the Great Depression, he joined the Navy in September 1941.
Furr graduated from boot camp in San Diego and became a radio operator. His orders were to board the USS Nitro (AE-2), an ammunition ship bound for Hawaii. He was assigned to Kaneohe on the north side of Oahu, Hawaii.
Established in 1919, Kaneohe became a USN sea plane base, the USMC 3rd Regiment base and the Marine Aircraft Group 24th Combat Logistics Battalion 3 base with a 7,800-foot runway. Everette was assigned to a squadron of sea planes, PBYs. Kaneohe was attacked nine minutes before Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
The PBY derides its name from “Patrol Bomber.” It was nicknamed after Catalina Island. The name was shortened to “Cat.” The Navy equipped Cats with radar and painted them black for night operations, “Black Cats.”
A Cat could remain in the air for 10-12 hours to locate and attack transport ships, rescue downed aircrews, locate and destroy enemy submarines and long-range patrols to locate enemy fleets. During air patrols, one of the enlisted crew prepared meals for the entire crew of 10, pilot, copilot, bow turret gunner, flight engineer, radio operator, navigator, two waist gunners and the vertical gunner.
Everette was at Kaneohe a short time before his squadron was assigned to New Caledonia. The officers flew their PBY to their new assignment. In May the enlisted members of the crew traveled on USS Whorton (AP-7) with the USMC’s 1st Division before they invaded Guadalcanal on Aug. 7, 1942.
Lady Luck protected Everette. His PBY never landed at New Caledonia. It was either shot down or lost at sea. Within 10 days, he was assigned to a newly arrived PBY. His new crew flew patrols every third day and sometimes every other day.
Two sea plane tenders, USS Curtiss (AV-4) and USS Tangier (AV-8), were stationed at Espiritu Santo maintaining and resupplying their compliment of PBYs, including Everette’s. They were part of the Guadalcanal campaign.
On Feb. 1, 1943, there was an emergency scramble of two make-shift PBY crews. Both PBYs were airborne in minutes. Everette was the radio operator for one of the PBYs. Brigadier General Nathan Farragut Twining, the 13th Air Force Commander with 14 of his staff had ditched their plane in the vicinity of the New Hebrides Islands about 600 miles from Espiritu Santo.
The Pacific had 20-foot unfriendly swells. Everette’s pilot hit the crest of a swell with such force, knocking out rivets holding the plane’s aluminum skin to the frame below the PBY’s water line. One of the enlisted men, Gene Musgrave, a former life guard, swam in those swells to a life raft with seven men and towed it to their PBY. Quickly, the survivors boarded the plane. The engines wouldn’t start! Everette carefully made his way to both engines to hard crank start them. Immediately, the pilot turned the PBY into the wind. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the injured plane slowly lifted above the angry Pacific waters.
After gaining altitude, the two PBYs flew in formation. The other PBY radioed Everette, “You took on a lot of water. Your plane is leaving a trail of water from your damage sheet metal!”
Everette’s pilot knew what he had to do at Espiritu Santo. Normally, he would land at a slow speed, a safe distance from where the plane would taxi out of the water up the cement ramp to unload his passengers and cargo. Damaged below the plane’s waterline, the pilot landed the PBY at a higher-than-normal speed only seconds from the cement ramp with full wing flaps. As the PBY’s wheels entered the ramp, the pilot and copilot literally stood on their brake pedals! There are no atheists in foxholes or a plane in flight with a serious problem.
Everette used his leave to fly to the West Coast. He met and married Jeanette in October 1943. He returned from his honeymoon to spend 1944-1945 as the radio operator on a four-engine PBY2, Coronado, assigned to Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Unfortunately, his paperwork was misplaced. He was never promoted to 1st Class Radio Operator. At Mayport Base near Jacksonville, Fla., he was discharged as ARM 2Class in September 1945.
After several jobs, Everette began calibrating instruments at Barton Instrument, earning $1.25 an hour. Barton Instrument was purchased by ITT a couple of years later. He retired in 1981 from ITT Barton after 27 years. Everette and Jeanette had three sons. They were married for 59 years when she passed in 2002.
Everette celebrated his 97th birthday on Feb. 24. He remembered every detail for this commentary. Thank you for your service. FYI, Kaneohe has World Class surfing!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.