My name is Lawrence F. Rodrigues. My friends call me Larry now, but when I was flying in the Navy airships I was called "Rod". My first two years in the Navy before going to Airship Squadron 3 were spent in the excellent Navy schools.
This was me about 1953. I loved to wear that white uniform. It felt so good and so cool - like "real cool". It was reason enough to join the Navy!
After I completed Boot Camp (San Diego), the Navy Aviation School (Norman, OK), and Electronics "A" school (Memphis, TN), I was ready for assignment. I was top man in my "A" School class so I had 1st choice of 100 duty assignments worldwide. I picked Airship Squadron 3 (A bit of ZP-3 history and ZP-3 insignia), Lakehurst NAS, New Jersey because being around blimps sounded really exciting. Never dreamed I would be flying in airships so much. What a thrill for a young guy!
Two buddies, Bob Kelly and Dave Hatloy, also came with me to Airship Squadron 3 (ZP-3). I'm the guy in the middle. We had a great time living together in the barracks and going on liberty together. We didn't drink (hardly) but we liked the east coast girls and had girlfriends who we took skating and dancing a lot. That was the era of the "Big Bands" and I was an excellent ballroom dancer.
Since we were well trained in electronics equipment operation and maintenance, it didn't take long for us to be put to work in the blimp squadron. Shortly after assignment we started flying in K-ships as radiomen and operators of the radar and sonobuoy receivers. What a thrill it was to be on those first flights in a real Navy blimp.
I can remember the feel of hanging on to the radioman's table and sending the Morse code takeoff report as our blimp climbed at a steep angle. The radioman's seat was a small wooden seat on a swinging arm attached to the bulkhead ("wall", to landlubbers) and would swing back when the airship nosed up. So I had to hang onto a support beam with my left hand, to pull the chair up to the table, and send the code with my right hand. It is strange, but I can still feel those feelings in my arms. I guess the adrenaline at the time imprinted those feelings in my body.
Bob, Dave and I worked hard and continued studying electronics all the time. Additionally, we went on temporary duty to additional Navy schools at Norfolk, VA and Memphis TN about every six months. Also, I can remember doing correspondence courses when I had the duty, and things were quiet on watch. We had a lot of support from the Chiefs and Officers, and we learned a lot. The result was that we all three set a new record for the squadron when the testing time came for promotions. On both the 2nd and 1st Class Petty Officer exams, we passed on the first try. As a result, we made 1st Class Petty Officer in less than four years and on the first enlistment. That was very rare then, and I gather from present day Navy people, still is rare.
What a great adventure for a young guy! I had an exciting job flying in the Navy's biggest high-tech antisubmarine warfare blimps, owned my 1953 Pontiac, was stationed close to Atlantic City, New York City, and Philadelphia, and had $400 a month to spend any way I wanted! What more could I ask for?
I guess the answer to that question was "get a wife and a change of duty for some new adventures". Because that is what I did. I left the Navy 19 December 1956, got married a few days later to Barbara Mathison, and joined the Air Force. They gave me equal rank (TSgt.) and flying duty at McClellan AFB, California in an EC-121 Super Constellation early warning radar surveillance aircraft squadron.
I didn't know beans about the Air Force, so they sent me to the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy immediately. I already was so well trained in electronics that I started flying regular missions after the NCO Academy. I was a radar technician and flew over 1000 hours in the "Super Connies".
Unlike the Navy technicians, who both maintained and operated the electronics equipment, we Air Force techs just had to keep it running for the operators. That usually consisted of just preflight testing, turning it on for the operators after we were on station, and turning it off at the end of the mission. Our average mission was 10 to 12 hours long and was exceptionally easy. I mostly read and listened to the Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles radio stations.
After the missions, we were encouraged to go to the physical conditioning unit where we could exercise, shower, and get a massage after the mission! I never did go there though. I was too used to those Navy 20 and more hour missions. To me a 10-hour Super Connie mission, mostly just listening to the radio, eating, and drinking soup, was hardly worth even taking a shower after.
Shown above is the interior of an EC-121. The 116 foot long Super Connie was comfortable to work in, and I especially remember enjoying the flight lunches. I usually threw a can of soup at the radar magnetron when I came aboard. The strong magnets held the soup can on to the hot magnetron and heated the soup to the perfect temperature for drinking when I was ready.
I also still get a thrill up my spine recalling the takeoffs. The four huge Wright R-3350 engines, each with 3,400 horsepower, roared and rattled everything as we rolled down the long runway slowly gaining enough speed to lift our 72 tons of electronic equipment, crew, fuel and airplane off the runway. On really hot days, it took a lot of runway to get airborne. Very different than flying a blimp!
I flew in the EC-121's for two years without much excitement, then went to Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in December, 1959. I was ready for some changes, and that was a big and good change for my wife, Barbara, and two-year-old daughter, Terri. During the Air Force years as a Communications Electronics Officer, I served four years each in France and Germany with my family and one year in Thule, Greenland, without family. We also were stationed at Denver, Colorado and Sacramento, California. All assignments were excellent.
Along the way, I received two Commendation Medals, earned a B.S. degree from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science Degree from the University of Southern California, and was promoted to Major. On June 1, 1973 I retired from the Air Force at age 42. The family enjoyed the Air Force. Things were very different in civilian life, though, so the family split up, and we all went our separate ways but are good friends still. (I now have a granddaughter, Amanda.)
From 1975 to 1993 I was an electronics instructor at American River College, Sacramento, California. I "retired" after 18 years as a full-time instructor but still taught one class about the Internet as a part-time instructor. In 2003 I completely stopped teaching at the college, and I have no plans or time for a third career!
I am now really a senior citizen (DOB 1933) but feel much younger than I am and never dreamed life could be so good. I think the secret of life is to work hard and always do everything with good intentions. I believe "The hole you make to give through is the same hole you receive through."
Thanks for sharing these memories with me.
© Copyright 2002, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
All rights reserved worldwide.