Papua New Guinea ~ AST-7 ~ 1962 -
Pictures and story below by Jerry Williams
I finally got a group of
slides sorted out and put together. They’re representative of my 1962 trip from
6th Mob. to the South Pacific for Task Force 11, AST 7. We left OKC
on Thanksgiving in a rush. A helicopter had crashed in New Britain, Papua New
Guinea while operating above it’s altitude limits. The LST which was supporting
the Task Force was headed back to Guam to pick up a new bird and we were to get
there, get gear sorted out, supplies loaded and headed out. We flew commercial
to San Francisco, then boarded a MATS C-121 and flew to Guam via Hickam and
Midway. We had Thanksgiving dinner at Hickam, again at Midway and at Guam, as
there had been a Typhoon and the supplies had just arrived. They served dinner
from field kitchens. We were there a few days, then spent 17 days on the LST
enroute to Rabaul.
We were in rough seas in a
lightly loaded, flat bottomed LST for most of the trip until we were past the
equator. We went through King Neptune’s court, losing our hair, eating grits
with mustard and being whipped with fire hoses. The LST was the Cayuga County,
LST 529, and it was to be its last voyage as it was worn out and rusty. 529 had
no helideck, so the Navy pilots had to swing in over the rail in front of the
bridge and land on the deck. There were rack of Avgas forward, and a sailor
stationed there with a lanyard to jettison the fuel barrels overboard if the
helicopter got squirrelly. It was an H34. I notice that later, they were flying
H43’s, which had much better altitude capabilities.
We had a 12 hour liberty at
Rabaul, went to an ANZAC club for drinks and were taken home to government
quarters on the ridge above the harbor by an Aussie patrol officer whose wife
wanted to meet some Americans. As I recall, there were 5 of us in a little MG
sized sports car. The Skipper, affectionaly called “Reef Moore” by the crew as
he was paranoid about running up on a reef. He even steered around floating
coconuts. He passed out at the club and a couple of guys rigged up a sedan
chair, brought him back aboard and lashed him to the helm.
We passed Kapingamaringi
enroute and picked up a crew and some of the equipment which was to be ours.
There had been a Tsunami and a lot of the gear had been wet. We were taken
ashore at Garove, Pidu Point in the Vitu Islands. We had tents on a black
volcanic sand beach (at 5 degrees south of the equator). Sand temperatures ran
140 to 160 degrees in the afternoon. We met the Australian, Ernie Edwards, who
managed a plantation about 3 miles through the jungle, and spent Christmas Eve
with Ernie and his family, 3 boys and an infant girl.
Our radio callsign was 64
Alfa. Our tech was A1C Jim Parr and the other rawin operator was Dave Weiner. We
kept hearing about all the people living in houses and getting R&R and stuff. We
ran out of supplies twice and dynamited fish inside the reef. We were supposed
to be resupplied every month, but they put us on the beach in December and
picked us up in May. We had water problems as the winter rains didn’t
materialize, but managed to make it.
Greetings...! And thanks for a most interesting web site. My name is Gene
Shafer...... I was one of the pilots evacuated off of the USS Cayuga
County, LST-529, 6/11/62. The captain was Lt Byrnes, USN..........
can’t remember any other names. I’ll be turning 70 next month..... 45
years have faded my memory somewhat.............the accident was a result
of "ground settling", a result of trying to hover in thin air with too
much weight....... The accident investigation board revealed a pressure
altitude 8,300 feet at the resupply site some 8 miles inland......they
were not able to drop paramedics into the site due to weather...... We had
to walk out of the site and ended up following a stream down the
mountain......my co-pilot stopped walking about 30 minutes downstream and
the rescue team had to make a stretcher and carry him the rest of the
way.......... I stopped walking about an hour into the trip
down.........the legs just stopped working. We both had severe burns on
our back sides from our necks down to our calves and after shock set in we
were unable to walk any further......
As a young ensign, I was having a good time up to this
point....... I enjoyed the people and the South Pacific..... saw many WW2
sites and visited many interesting areas......... really hated to give up
the cruise............ Thanks for your most interesting web site.