The Falcon Death Ray
Remembering the First Navy-Air Force Football Game
All At Sea
The Falcon Death Ray
by Edward Oleata '61
The 1960 football season was one of the best seasons Navy ever had. They went 9 and 1 and, after beating the Washington Huskies in Seattle for their third consecutive victory of the season, they were ranked in the top ten the rest of the year. Washington had been ranked number one at the end of the 59 season, had won the Rose Bowl and had started out ranked number one the first few weeks of the season. Once we knocked them off and they proceeded to win the rest of their games that season, Navy had to be ranked pretty high and we were all season. We also had the Heisman trophy winner on that team in the person of Joe Bellino. Joe was the most exciting runner I ever saw. He carried the entire team on his back to victory all season and all the way to an Orange Bowl bid.
The 1960 season was also the first year that Navy played that new upstart team called Air Force. All plebes know that West Point was founded in 1802 and the Naval Academy in 1845. The Air Force Academy wasn’t started until 1955. Heck, the Air Force wasn’t even a separate military organization until 1946. Before that it was part of the U. S. Army. The Air Force Academy didn’t even have four complete classes until 1958. They started with one class in 1955 and added another class each year until they had the full complement of four classes. They wanted their new academy to be recognized quickly so they emphasized sports right from the start. By the time they had the full complement of four classes they were already playing a big time football schedule and having good success. They went 9-0-2 that year and played TCU in the Cotton Bowl. They had only fielded a team four years and they were already playing in a major bowl game. The 1959 season was the first year they played Army with the game ending in a 13-13 tie. They had the fourth best passer in the nation in 1959 in the person of Richie Mayo and he was back for his senior year in 1960.
The Navy-Air Force game was Navy’s home game and was played in the old Baltimore Memorial Stadium where the Colts and Orioles played. The Brigade was bussed to Baltimore in a caravan of fifty busses to Clifton Park where we formed up as a Brigade and marched to the stadium about a mile away. As the football march-on went this would be easy.
The toughest game we ever went to was the annual trip down the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk and the Oyster Bowl. When you awakened the Friday morning before the game and looked out towards the bay you would see five or six LST s anchored. Friday night one Regiment would board the LST’s with their toiletries, a sparkling new uniform and a change of skivvies and the fleet would get underway for Norfolk. We steamed all night with more than a few sea sick middies caused by those flat bottomed LST’s rocking all over the place. We docked at a wharf right in downtown Norfolk, had breakfast on the LST’s, formed up on the wharf and then began a six mile march right through Norfolk with the police stopping traffic and people lining the streets to cheer us on to victory. After the game there was a Cotillion in the ballroom of one of the large hotels downtown. We had to be back to the LST’s by midnight to start the 125 mile steam back up the Chesapeake to Annapolis. Fortunately, only one Regiment made this trip each year. The other Regiment would go to the Penn game in Philadelphia.
Air Force won the toss, elected to receive and, with Richie Mayo’s pinpoint passing, marched deep into Navy territory where the Navy defense rose up and stopped them so they had to settle for a field goal. 3-0 was as far as the Air Force could fly. With Joe Bellino, Joe Matalavage and Ron McKeown running through big holes provided by Navy’s tough offensive line we ate up the yardage. Navy showed the Air Force how to attack from the air too as Hal Spooner completed many passes with seven of them going to flanker back John Prichard. Spooner had beaten Richie Mayo at his own game, passing for more yards, points and a higher completion percentage than the Air Force star. The final score was 35 to 3.
One of the more memorable parts of the game occurred at half-time when both teams were in the dressing room. That was when the Air Force “falconers’” put on a show of falconry. Two cadets came out on the field with hooded falcons perched on their gloved left forearms. They removed the hoods and the two falcons flew up and around the field. The cadets would then place a stuffed rabbit lure on the field and the falcons would swoop down and grab the lure. This happened once or twice. Then on the next dive the falcon aborted about half way through his dive and wouldn’t come down again. This also happened to the second falcon. They each made several runs at the lure but always aborted their run about half way down. When the brigade saw this in the stands they started pointing, laughing and jeering at the falconers. The falcons just would not come down. They ended up perched up on top of the scoreboard ruffling their feathers and looking bewilderingly at each other. No amount of coaxing by the falconers could get the falcons to come back down. Finally, just as the teams returned to the field for the start of the second half, the falcons accepted the coaxing of the falconers and returned to the gloved arms of their tenders and they were carried off the field. The falcon show was over in more ways than one.
Here is what happened. There was a first classman in the 9th company, Dick “Bulldog” Gray, who had been a second class electronics technician in the Navy before coming to the Naval Academy via the Naval Academy Prep School. He had seen the falcon demonstrations on television and had a plan. With the permission of the weapons department he acquired an old sonar transducer. With an old amplifier, a small parabolic antenna and some other old electronics gear he had scrounged up he made this contraption that would shoot up a UHF sound frequency that the human ear couldn’t even hear but the falcon ear could. He wasn’t even sure this contraption would work. With the help of some of his 9th company classmates they took the parts to the game. Nearing the end of the first half Dick set up his “ray gun” behind the Navy bench. He had a long extension cord but wasn’t sure where he could get some electricity for his “ray gun”. Luckily there was a receptacle on the front of the stands near the bench so he had the “juice” to make his contraption hum.
When the Air Force cadets started their falcon demonstration “Bulldog” went about his work like the mad scientist that he was. He cranked up the “juice” on his falcon ray and pointed it at the swooping birds. When they came into range of the sound beam they got spooked and didn’t know what to do. Every time they would start another dive down towards the lure on the field ”Bulldog” would aim his “ray” at them and they would abort their dive. The 9th company mids knew what was going on. They began to laugh, cheer and point at the confused falcons and falconers. Soon it spread to the entire brigade who were also laughing and cheering. “Bulldog’s” experiment had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He had successfully sabotaged the falcon demonstration. When the two teams returned to start the second half he turned the transducer off and the falcons finally returned to their Cadet tenders. For the rest of first class year Dick Gray marched with a little more bounce to his step and had a sardonic grin on his face because he had earned the undying respect of his 9th company classmates.
By Edward Oleata '61
The words that a Plebe at the Naval Academy hated to hear the most back in 1957 was, “Come around Mister”! What this meant is that you had done something wrong and were being ordered to report to an upper classman’s room for a session of further “indoctrination”. When we went down to the mess hall for our three meals a day we would be asked professional questions. These questions would involve information on the Navy. Examples would be, “What is the length, beam, draft, armament and complement of an Iowa class battle ship: or, “What are the names of all the fighter planes currently in use in the fleet.” If you didn’t answer the question properly or forgot one of the 8 to 10 questions you received at each meal you would be ordered to “come around”.
Remembering the First Navy-Air Force Football Game
by Mike Hoernemann ‘61
My class of 1961 included a group of clever and creative characters who were very good at staging innovative and humorous stunts for various events, including, in particularly, football games. They frequently specialized in having stunts that initially seemed to be in support of Navy’s opponents. This would get the other team’s stands cheering, while the Navy side was silent. Then, in an instant, the stunt would involve a reversal that favored Navy; silencing and embarrassing the cheering opponents, and energizing the Navy supporters with cheers and laughing jeers. The groups most memorable accomplishments had to be the first football game between Navy and Air Force.
The Air Force Academy graduated its first class in 1959. When the AF Academy was established, there was a big effort to emulate the years of tradition of Annapolis and West Point, while still establishing themselves as the premier space age service in marked contrast to the much older Navy and Army. This attitude was even reflected in sports, where Air Force had adopted a sleek fighting falcon as a mascot.
Air Force had first played, and tied, Army in the fall of 1959. The first meeting with Navy was scheduled to occur in Baltimore in 1960. Around half of the Wing of cadets was flown back for the big game. Air Force was not a big draw on the East Coast and there was a lot of hype in the papers in an effort to sell tickets to the general public. One of the big items that was much ballyhooed in advance, was a planned halftime demonstration of the trained AF mascots. The falcons were trained to fly loose at stadiums and make diving attacks at a lure being whirled around on a tether by a cadet handler.
During the pregame activities, it was traditional to introduce school mascots, often with elaborate props and hoop-la. A cable had been stretched from the top of the scoreboard at one end of the field, downward and over the heads of the midshipman. At the end of the cable, on top of the scoreboard, there was a beautiful cardboard and paper crepe replica of a Falcon with wings spread out to about 8 or so feet. It was very professional looking. At an appropriate time, the stadium announcer indicated to the crowd that the Air Force mascot was the fighting falcon as represented by the large model on the scoreboard. With the Air Force partisans wildly cheering the model started to move down the cable in a swoop towards the mids. About 50 feet before the model reached the mids, the Navy touchdown cannon went off, and the model bird blew up and was totally disintegrated. The wildly cheering Air Force fans were instantly silenced and the Navy crowd went wild.
The next step was to be the entrance of the Navy goat. A rickety, patched up float of an Air Force fighter was towed onto the field. It was obvious to everyone that the fighter would fall apart and the goat and his handlers would emerge. Before this could occur, a dozen or so AF cadets, including their cheerleaders, ran onto the field with smoke bombs on spikes and ignited them and set them in the ground around the float, completely obliterating any sight of the goat. However, an equal number of mids immediately ran onto the field, grabbed the smoke bombs by their spikes, ran over to the stands and tossed them up into the cadet wing. Smoke flew all around and many a sky blue uniform was suitably tarnished. But the fun had only begun.
As the smoke cleared, the pregame activities continued with a spirited march-on by the Brigade Drum and Bugles Corps. They did their thing, marching up and down the field playing all the traditional Navy numbers. Of course the Navy supporters cheered them on, while the Air Force side was silent. But then, as the Navy musicians left the field, the announcer broadcast that, “Now, representing the Air Force, we have the University of Virginia Air Force ROTC marching band.” A band of about 24 musicians, dressed in khaki uniforms, marched smartly onto the field from the sidelines. As the surprised Air Force crowd cheered, and Navy was now silent, the band went to the center of the field and started to execute a right turn to go down the field. Suddenly two band members at the back turned left. They started to run back and return, but one of them lost his pants, (exposing bright red shorts). At the same time, two marchers collided and dropped their instruments. Several more did countermarches and collided. And in a space of less that 10 seconds the band went from organized military unit to the total chaos of a clown troupe , breaking apart and running off the field in all directions. Of course, the whole thing was a Navy stunt. No one had time to realize that there was no such thing as an UV AFROTC marching band and it was just a bunch of mids. It was a great stunt, and as planned, left the Brigade laughing out loud, and the AF cadets fuming and looking for revenge on the playing field.
The game started with AF scoring first on a field goal, but that was to be their only points for the day, on or off the field. As half time approached, the announcers kept hyping the big falcon flight demo. But first, it was Navy’s turn. SECNAV had dispatched the crack USMC Drum and Bugle Corps, which was a top notch military unit marching with great precision in their brilliant scarlet dress uniforms. Plus they had the Marine drill team on hand, playing catch and “baton-twirling” with their chrome-plated rifles. It was an impressive show and used up most all of the half time. Finally, the big moment came for the performing falcons. The handlers came on with their birds and released two of them, who flew in a big circle around the inside of the stadium, as they had been conditioned to do. But then, as the handlers swung lures on a long line, the birds, instead of diving on the lures, just went and sat on the top of the scoreboard. The frustrated handlers ran around on the field trying to get the birds attention, hollering and twirling the lures. But the birds remain perched, with cocked heads and a dazed confused look. Finally, as the teams came back on the field, the birds made a few feeble swoops and that was the big show.
The game was almost anticlimactic. Navy won 35-3.
After the game, rumors started to spread around the Brigade that some mids had taken some actions that affected the AF trained birds. Details and names were not mentioned, and a fuller story really only came to light quite a bit later. The gist of it was that some classmates had gone into a skinny lab, scavenged some parts from some old sonar sets, and with the possible support of some officer instructors, fabricated a high frequency transmitter, and installed it beneath the stands at the stadium. Broadcasting above the range of human hearing, it was heard by the birds and disoriented them. True or just urban myth, and subsequent revelations many years later seemed to verify the story, thousands of eye witnesses saw that something certainly happened to the birds. Among the reasons for more info not coming out were that apparently no one had gotten any permission to use the lab equipment, several FCC regs were probably violated, and if any officer instructors had helped, or even just looked the other way, they could have gotten into big trouble. In any event, it is a great story, and the events were witnessed by the entire classes of “61 through ’64.
By Tom W. Mitchell '61
During my tenure in the Navy, I had an assignment as Chief Engineer aboard a destroyer, the USS Black DD-666. In the middle of my tour, the ship’s Damage Control Assistant (DCA) on my staff had received orders to go to flight school to become a pilot. His replacement was a young ensign fresh out of OCS and ABC warfare school. One of the responsibilities of the DCA position is atomic, biological and chemical (ABC) warfare monitoring.
The departing DCA was anxious to leave for his new assignment. Protocol required that he wait until his replacement reported to the ship in order to brief him and turn over his records and equipment. One important item that was exchanged and required a signature indicating acceptance was a Geiger counter and the radio active samples used for calibration. The new DCA, George K. reported to the ship on a Monday morning just prior to the ship’s heading out to sea for a week of local operations. We talked for a few minutes to make sure he was comfortable with the turn over process before the former DCA departed. George was 90 day wonder, very new to the navy, and had never been to sea. I only had a few brief opportunities to spend time with him that first day as he was busy processing a check off list, which included inspection of the radio active samples.
That first evening underway, I had the 2000 to 2400 watch. It was unusually rough that night. At about midnight, after being relieved as OOD, I went to the head in officer’s quarters prior to retiring. The head was darkened as usual with only two red lights providing illumination for the two urinals and two commodes. There were no doors on the commode stalls, just curtains. The first stall was open. In plain view, was an officer in khakis on his knees on the terrazzo deck, hanging on to the rim of the bowl with his hands. He was vomiting into the commode and moaning. I could tell it was George because of his height (6’ 3”) and his blond hair. My immediate impression was he was seasick. I said “George, are you okay?” In this extremely saddened voice he replied, “No, I am dying” Not knowing what he meant, I asked him why he thought he was dying. He told me he was contaminated. I asked him why he thought he was contaminated. He said it was radiation from the radio active samples he inventoried that morning. He then said watch as he threw up again and flushed the toilet. It took me about a nanosecond to realize what just happened as I watched the substance in the bowl swirl around with sparkles of light flashing as it disappeared down the drain.
For those of you who have never been aboard a navy ship at sea, it is important to explain that the fire and flushing systems aboard ships use sea water to flush the toilets in order to conserve fresh water. The heads are usually darkened with red night lights to maintain ones night vision. When a ship is sailing not far from the coast, the sea water contains algae and plankton with a phosphorous content. When agitated, the phosphorous gives off sparkles of white and yellow light. Just flushing the toilet in the darkened space causes a light show in the bowl.
Also, George had just completed his ABC warfare education. One class in the school teaches the symptoms of contamination from atomic, biological or chemical exposure. He was taught that the first symptom of extreme exposure to radio active material is heavy nausea and later death. However, the radioactive samples used for calibrating the Geiger counters are rated so low, they couldn’t hurt a flea.
The instant I saw the phosphorous glowing in the bowl, I realized my first impression was correct. It was the old “mal de mer”, sickness of the sea. George however was convinced the specs of light in his vomit going down the drain were actually radioactive contamination his body was trying to reject, and death was just around the corner.
For a very brief moment, I thought about stringing him along and faking vomiting in the other commode to show I was contaminated also. He was in so much anguish; I could not do it. The poor guy truly believed he was dying. I immediately explained to him how the algae and phosphorous in the water reacted. I then asked if he had thrown up in stall next to us. He said “No”. We went to the next stall and I flushed it. The same light appeared. He looked at me closely; and, in this serious tone, said “you mean I am not going to die?” I smiled and said, “George, you are not going to die; you are suffering from seasickness.” He paused for a few seconds, digesting what I had just said, and then his entire body relaxed.
We became close friends for the rest of the time I was aboard the USS Black. I had saved his life.
All At Sea
by Hugh Tulloch '61
Reporting aboard my first ship was an unforgettable experience. I was a brand newly minted ensign, having reached the pinnacle of my dreams, and now I was to serve on a destroyer, Greyhound of the Fleet! (It was only later that I learned that the carrier sailors referred to us as "Small boys".)
The USS Robert L. Wilson (DDE-847) was assigned to Destroyer Squadron 36, a part of Task Group Bravo, an anti-submarine force. Task Group Bravo was operating in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1961, so I took myself to McGuire Air Force Base to catch a flight and meet her. We all got into a well-travelled C-118, and flew via Newfoundland to Shannon to Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main AFB. I then took the train to Naples, where the ship was berthed. Of course, when I got there, I found out that it had left a couple of weeks before, so I spent a few days seeing Naples and Capri. It would have been more fun doing it with someone special, but I still got a kick out of the hydrofoil ride to Capri (quite a new technology in those days) and the Blue Grotto. After a while, the Navy figured out that the ship was due in Genoa shortly, so I retraced my path on the train northward.
Enroute, I learned about the charming Italian custom of throwing your suitcase out the train window when you arrive at your destination: so upon arriving in Genoa, I boldly thrust my suitcase out the window, and ran out to retrieve it, fortunately undisturbed. I made my way to the port somehow, despite my lack of Italian and their lack of English, and reported to the Executive Officer as required.
The XO was a crusty Naval Academy graduate who looked at me with a jaundiced eye and promptly assigned me to lead Fox Division, probably because he figured I wasn’t smart enough to understand the machinery in the Engineering Department. After all, he had access to my records from the Naval Academy, where I proudly graduated in the top two-thirds of my class, and that only because of honors in English and history and standing first in my class in foreign languages. You can only imagine how low my grades in the engineering classes were. Fox Division included the Anti-Submarine crew, along with the fire control men who maintained and operated the equipment to point the ship’s guns.
Fortunately, the ASW division had an incredibly smart Sonar man First Class named Steve Vargas who did all the hard stuff, and let me stand up in front of the division at morning quarters. His best advice was when he told me gently, "Please, Sir, don’t touch any of the switches."
The sonar men were mostly a nerdy bunch, with a couple of wonderful exceptions, like Chico Castillo, a Mexican Golden Gloves champ, who could hear a submarine around a corner and through all the other noise in the ocean, whale farts included. Chico was a wonderfully funny, capable guy who bounced from Seaman Recruit to Sonar man 2nd and back because of his exuberance ashore. At sea, he was the very best. Ashore, he was a terror, as we shall see later.
The torpedo men were classic Old Navy types. TM2 Donald DeVault stepped straight out of the recruiting posters, and knew his stuff. We still had the old-fashioned MK15 steam torpedo tubes, massive hunks of iron on the upper deck. I don’t believe we ever fired them while I was aboard, for which I’m profoundly glad. They served mainly to produce running rust and keep the torpedo man strikers busy, chipping and painting and wondering why they had transferred from the deck force. We also had depth charges, the "modern" teardrop-shaped version and K-guns which launched them out from the sides of the ship to cover a wider pattern. We never dropped them either. We also had the new MK32 anti-submarine acoustic torpedoes, one strapped to each side amidships. It was never quite clear to me how we would get them over the side to attack a submarine, but never mind, we never launched one of those either.
Finally, the premier ASW weapon, the hedgehogs. These were a British invention from World War II. The Wilson’s designation as a DDE meant that it was primarily an anti-submarine ship. They had stripped off the 40MM Bofors gun mounts to decrease topside weight, and the Mount 52 5/38 gun to make room for a trainable MK 15 hedgehog mount. The hedgehog mount could be trained right and left, just like a gun mount, which meant that you didn’t have to drive the ship right over the top of the sub. The mount itself looked like a row of steel railroad tracks, onto which someone had welded 24 steel stubs (called spigots) onto which you slid the hedgehog projectile. When you got within range and had a good fire-control solution, you blasted these off in a circular pattern which was sure to trap the sub and blow a hole in the pressure hull. That’s the theoretical solution. The reality was quite different. First of all, finding the submarine was the principal challenge.
The Med is relatively shallow, and when the summer sun warms it, thermal layers are created which make the water virtually impenetrable to sound waves (the sonar). The ray is trapped and bent down, so you’re looking at the ocean bottom rather than out in front and around the ship. Detection ranges (if you get lucky) are down in the low hundreds of yards instead of thousands, which is what you need if you are to carry out a well-planned attack. However, once in a while, the gods smile, and someone like Chico is able to detect, classify and track a submarine at a reasonable range. This usually happens in the North Atlantic, where the water is churned up by the winter storms, and the thermal layers disappear. You then begin to feed the data into the MK 105 Attack Director, which calculates the course to steer to make the attack. The MK 105, made by Librascope, was a marvel of its time. It was an electro-mechanical device, which means it was made of approximately seven zillion gears, cogs, shafts, lights and dials. It had to be tended like a baby, and, like a baby, it frequently produced a product which was more fragrant than useful. The serviceable time of the MK 105 on an extended cruise was measured in the low hundreds of hours if you were lucky.
Today’s computer Blue Screen of Death is a trifle compared to the MK 105. But it was state of the art at the time. OK, now Chico has detected the sub and is tracking it. By some miracle, the MK 105 appears to be giving you a good solution, and the helmsman is actually able to follow the indicator to give you a good attack course. The torpedo men go out on deck into a howling gale to load the hedgehog mount, slipping and sliding on the wet deck as the ship rolls 30 to 40 degrees to each side. (Remember, you’re in the North Atlantic in January now.) Fortunately, you’re only firing practice charges, which are considerably smaller and lighter than the real rounds, which probably weigh about 50 " 60 pounds each. You salvo-fire the rounds, the ship turns away, Chico loses the submarine in the ship’s wake, and you start all over again. And this is in peacetime, with nobody shooting back!
That was ASW in the ‘60’s.