Lieutenant Commander Judson M. Brodie, USN (Ret.)
I went aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-5) on the 29th of June 1941, attached to a VF-42 fighter squadron. The squadron was equipped with Grumman F4F-3A aircraft that sported green tails, as we were a USS Ranger (CV-4) squadron, and only expected to be aboard the Yorktown for two weeks. We began taxiing our planes from Hangar SP-27 at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia, down to the ship to be loaded aboard. I remember sitting on a wing while taxiing to Pier 7 and feeling proud of the fact that I was wearing dungarees, as only airdales* had them at that time. Ship's company still wore only blues and whites.
* "airdale" was US Navy parlance for any aviation rating belonging to an air unit - ship or squadron.
Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Judson M. Brodie
Neutrality patrols and convoy escorts in the Atlantic
Our first cruise on the Yorktown was a two week neutrality patrol. After which, we returned to Norfolk. This was still peacetime, and a typical day during the cruise began with the morning launch of aircraft, including fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes. These were lazy days; sitting around the flight deck between launches, listening to sea stories told by the many "old hands". At night, we had movies in the center hangar deck bay. Officers and CPOs sat on canvas director's chairs and the crew sat on mess benches. Everyone wore whites, which was the uniform of the day. The ship's band would play the latest swing tunes, and we all stood at attention while the captain and the admiral were being seated.
The next cruise was also brief. During which, we pulled into Bermuda and anchored in Grassy Bay. The local girls had a dance for us at the service club, and it was my first experience coming back to the ship on a liberty boat with many shipmates in the bilges from too much booze.
Pulling out of Bermuda after several days, we went south to look for the cruiser Kolen, a German raider, but turned back about seven degrees above the equator. My lasting impression of this cruise was how hot it was, as we had no air conditioning aboard and the compartments below deck became like furnaces. Two weeks after leaving Bermuda, the ship returned to Norfolk where we offloaded our aircraft and returned to the air station for several weeks. After which, we re-embarked on the Yorktown.
Our next cruise took us to Argentia, Newfoundland, where we remained for about two weeks moored to a buoy. The carrier Ranger pulled in while we were there, and also the battleship New Mexico. The weather was cold, as it was early October. We were issued cold weather gear, and had to bundle up when going on to the flight deck to work on the aircraft. One day, my seaman striker was cleaning the machine-guns on one of my three planes when the wind blew the wing gun cover over the side. I was in trouble, but thanks to the timely intervention of my chief, "Sea Pig" McCarty, the trouble passed.
We left Argentia and rendezvoused with a convoy; escorting it nearly to the shores of the British lsles. While crossing the Atlantic, we were fired upon by a German submarine. After turning the convoy over to the British, the Yorktown returned to Portland, Maine. En route, we encountered off the coast of Iceland the worst hurricane I have ever been through . Waves were breaking over the flight deck; and when the storm was at its worst, static electricity would leap a good half inch if you touched a plane. The battleship New Mexico was in our wake, and most of the time there was green water over her forward turrets. She lost her planes, as did some of the cruisers.
Arriving in Portland, at the end of October, we anchored out in Casco Bay about seven miles from the city. What a boat ride that was, cold and windy, to reach Portland. As the liberty parties went ashore by seniority, it was usually 1900 (7:00 pm) before I would make it ashore. At the time, I was a Third Class Aviation Ordnanceman or 3rd Class Petty Officer. We docked the liberty boats at an old pier, which was a good thirty minute walk to the USO*. The USO became the popular place for the Yorktown sailors as well as our rivals from the other ships. As liberty was good, money became short. Many of the sailors began pawning their pea-coats, until finally, there were very few coats left. Those of us who still had coats had to guard them at all times, as the OOD (Officer of the Day) inspected each pea-coat as you requested permission to go ashore just to ensure that you were wearing your own. When returning from liberty, there was usually a wait of several hours on the dock before a boat would arrive, followed by the long cold wet ride back to Yorktown.
* The United Service Organisation (USO) was a private, non-profit agency chartered in 1941 to provide social, welfare, and recreational services for members of the US armed forces and their families.
We made one more escort cruise and then returned to Portland, Maine, for Thanksgiving. Most of us who rated liberty were invited to dinner by families in Portland. The Yorktown left Portland for the last time and headed for Norfolk, arriving late in November, The air group was disembarked, and our squadron VF-42 returned to the air station and settled down for what we thought would be a month ashore.
News of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Sunday December 7th 1941, the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor, and by nightfall, we were already back aboard the Yorktown. The radio was playing a new song: "The Sun will soon be Setting on the Land Of the Rising Sun". The ship left the pier and anchored out in the bay. We remained there for two days, belting ammunition and readying the aircraft for war. After which, we moved back to the pier and offloaded the aircraft. The Yorktown went to the shipyard at Portsmouth for minor upkeep, and we went back to the Air Station to modify our aircraft. Working around the clock, we added bulletproof glass to the windshields, armor plates behind the pilot, and self-sealing gas tanks.