The army air corp was running patrols guarding the canal using B24 airplanes, but they were now needed in Europe. Navy PBM type airplanes were more suitable for the job. PBMs could fly lower and slower and get a better look at intruding ships.
Salinas was about half way down the coast of Ecuador. The town was on a bay. The weather was good while we were there. The ocean was not violent there, but there ocean swells which made take offs a little difficult. The PBM seaplane tended to porpoise in swells.
The town of Salinas consisted of a few shops, a barber shop, and a small hotel. There was an airport on the army base near by. There was an officers club also where you could buy drinks.
Our patrol flights ran from Salinas out to the Galapagos Islands and from the Galapagos to Corinto Nicaragua. We stayed over night at the Galapagos and at Corinto. The Navy had facilities at both places. Our facilities in the Galapagos were on Baltra Island which was in the center of islands. Baltra was an interesting place. There were Iguanas there, some pet goats, and a couple of pet parrots that could talk. In the water were seals, giant manta rays, sharks, and tuna fish. We didn’t have any giant turtles. They were on another island.
Our airplanes were anchored in the bay, so at night we had to a duty crew aboard in case a storm came up. Anchor crew duty could be interesting. Sometimes seals would come up and play around the airplane, and at night we could get Tokyo Rose on the radio.
The distance out to the Galapagos was About 600 miles. The distance from Galapagos to Corinto was about 800 miles. Flying to Corinto we had the equatorial front which was 2 degrees north of the equator. To get through the front we had to stay low, sometimes as low as 200 ft. We had radar altimeters so that was no problem. About halfway to Corinto there was a little island, I think it was called Cocas Island. It was only about 1000 ft. high, but an Army B24 had been unfortunate to hit it. A half a mile left or right or 300 ft. higher and they would have missed it.
Corinto was in the southwest corner of Nicaragua. We landed in a bay of the ocean. There was a river that flowed into the bay, that is where our Navy facilities were. The current of the river complicated the beaching of our airplanes. Pilots who flew flying boats had to be proficient in water maneuvering on the water. This took as much skill as maneuvering in the air.
We spent the night at the Navy facility at Corinto. During the evening we would stroll into the village and have a beer at an out door bar and talk to some of the local girls. The village was full of beautiful birds. Many had long red tails and crested gold wings. They talked a lot or at least made a lot of bird noises.
On our patrols for the canal we were required to identify all of the ships that we saw. Most were identified visually by checking with data we were given before our flight. Some required close inspection, which we did by flying very close and checking their flags and names painted on their sides. Some of the ships looked hazardous with small sails and decks awash. We wondered if they would make it to port.
We flew back to Galapagos and spent the night before flying back to Salinas. Our patrol back to Salinas ran several hundred miles south before turning east. Believe or not one pilot turned on instructions from his navigator. When they both woke up it was too late it to make it to Salinas–not enough fuel. They radioed their predicament and were instructed to drop their bombs to save fuel, return to Galapagos, and good luck. They did make it.
In September 1943 an ALNAV promotion came out. All of us Ensigns were promoted to LT JG (Lieutenant Junior Grade), and all of the LT JGs were promoted to full Lieutenants. This called for a party. The party was held at the local hotel. Fortunately I was not there. I had just had a cyst removed from my back and was in the hospital.
The party was a disaster. The hotel had just put up some mirrors at he front door. The mirrors got broken. A small band played for the party and they lost the bass drum which got broken. One of the promoted pilots, Ed Rutledge, a former Husky football player, got drunk and went berserk and started beating people up. I went down to the squadron offices the next day and saw some black eyes and bruised faces. There was another pilot, Van Alst, who caused problems from time to time. I don’t know what he had done, but he was put in hack, confined to quarters. This punishment is applied to officers who had caused a problem. Van Alst was put in hack for about a week. His solution to his problem was to place several cases of beer in his room and stay drunk all of the time. Our quarters were rooms about 15 ft by 15 ft with screens for windows. It never got cold in Salinas, so we didn’t need windows. As we walked by Van Alst’s room he would call out “Are you going to come in and have a beer or are you going to be a shit?!”
At the local army base airport there was a piper cub available to us which we sometimes flew. One day I was selected by the army to fly a soldier up to Guayaquil. He was to pick up something to cook for dinner. Guayaquil was only 60 or 70 miles N of Salinas. The way to go was to go about 20 miles south of Salinas and then turn NE and fly up the river. I flew south and then turned NE. I decided to stay low, about 100 feet above the river. I looked ahead and saw a large power cable stretching across the river. I decided to fly under the cable which I did successfully. Fortunately there were no little cables under the big one—many times there are. The soldier was not favorably impressed with my flying under the cable, so after landing at Guayaquil and picking up the package, I took off and flew back to Salinas, but at a higher altitude.